By JOAN TADDIE
Based on the 1992 hit comedy film of the same name, starring Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” opened in the West End at The London Palladium in 2009 listing Ms. Goldberg as a major producer. The book is by “Cheers” writers, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with music by Disney favorite, Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. A newly revised adaptation of this musical opened on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre in 2011 starring Patina Miller, who made her Broadway debut as she reprised her role of Deloris Van Cartier. The musical received multiple Tony Award nominations and closed in 2012.
“Sister Act” begins on Christmas day in a night club in Philadelphia in 1977 where the disco beat rules. Deloris is auditioning for her gangster boyfriend, Curtis, who owns the club. Her Christmas turns sour when she doesn’t get the job, gets Curtis’ wife’s blue fur coat as her Christmas present, and witnesses Curtis murdering another gangster. To top off her day, Deloris is placed into a witness protection program by police officer and former high school admirer, Eddie.
Eddie decides to “hide” Deloris in a convent connected to a Catholic church located in a bad part of town and scheduled to be sold for lack of parishioners.
Director, Steven Heron, skillfully takes us on Deloris’ journey as she is thrust into the life of a nun and finds herself questioning and reevaluating the meaning of fulfillment and happiness.
The staging of all the scenes in which Deloris and the nuns become acquainted and eventually bond as an effective team are seamless, and the comic timing is spot on. On opening weekend, that became even more impressive after Mr. Heron’s announcement that one of the featured nuns, Sister Mary Lazarus, had been injured during tech week and had to be replaced by a nun in the ensemble, Melinda Lebo. (Ms. Lebo stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.)
Sarah Biggs is perfect as the postulant, Sister Mary Roberts. Watching her character change from the obedient young nun in training to the jubilant and independent spirit at the end of the show is a joy to watch. She brings the house down with her strong vocal performance in Act 2 of “The Life I Never Led.”
Keisha Marie Gill’s performance as Sister Mary Patrick is energetic and she never loses her beautiful smile. As the Mother Superior, Michelle Merklinger’s strong vocals, especially in her endearing rendition of “I Haven’t Got A Prayer,” charms the audience.
Kyle McDonald’s character, Eddie, entertains with a fun version of the song, “I Could Be That Guy,” which involves some interesting quick changes. When they aren’t terrorizing the public, gangsters William Merklinger, Benjamin M. Benya, Kevin Nolan, and John Perez flirt with the audience, imitating the Bee Gees, in some funny numbers.
But the night and the stage belongs to Reca Oakley. Her effortless portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier is smart and commanding. From the first moments of the production when you hear her powerful and dynamic voice and listen to her deliver wisecrack after wisecrack with polish and precision, you know it’s going to be a great show. Ms. Oakley’s rendition of the song “Sister Act” at the end of Act 2 seals the deal.
This number, “Sister Act,” is the glue that connects all the pieces of the production and prepares us to celebrate the message of the show — no matter how different we may appear, we are all human with the same needs and wants and if we unite, our differences will make us all stronger.
Performing this number with the support of an amazing lighting and projection design by William Gibbons-Brown and Niko Stamos, Ms. Oakley demonstrates the depths of her singing range and her ability to not only be a skillful comedic actress, but also an impassioned dramatic performer who can reach out and touch our hearts.
Final kudos must go to choreographer, Sterling Lovett, and music director, Spencer Crosswell, for bringing the joy and sparkle of the disco beat and the 70’s to the audience via the infectious musical production numbers performed by all those wonderful nuns. And speaking of sparkle, the costumes by MSMT Costumes are outstanding!
At the end of the show, the audience gets on their feet clapping and dancing and smiling and laughing. And this joy poured out of the theatre.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Sister Act” runs through April 24 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. Tickets are $20 to $26 with discounts for seniors, military and students. Call 321-268-1125, visit TitusvillePlayhouse.com or show your appreciation for TPI’s support of Brevard Culture by clicking onto their ad on the right side of this page.