“SISTER ACT”; could be ‘habit forming! Reply

Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Sister Act
, the current presentation of Hamilton Theatre Inc., is among the increasing number of Broadway musical comedies based on an earlier movie.  The original 1992 movie starred Whoopi Goldberg. The musical play, with music by Alan Menkin, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Cheri and Bill Steinkeller, premiered in Pasadena in 2006, opened in London’s West End in 2009, and on Broadway in 2011. HTI’s production, celebrating its 60th season of producing music comedy in Hamilton, performs the minor miracle of successfully mounting this large-scale musical on the small stage of HTI’s theatrical home on McNab St. North.

A shot from the original ‘Sister Act’; WITHOUT the hammy Whoopi

Fortunately for HTI – but less so for readers of this review – the production is sold out for the full run.  The play highlights the importance of singing and theatre in helping us express feelings, conquer fears, and live with joy.
HTI’s stage is narrow in depth, but high, allowing the 5-piece jazz-like band to perform on an elevated platform above the action.  This works well, letting the audience appreciate the music while giving the actors space to move, sing, and dance.  The band includes Musical Director James Medeiros, and Wyatt Gibson, Devon Savas, Braden Varcoe, and Eric Hanenberg.
Director Dustin Jodway (in his 20th year with HTI), ably assisted by choreographer Lori Dawson-Levy, Medeiros, stage manager Monica Cairney and other production staff, works with an excellent cast and keeps the production buoyant and fast-paced – both in large group numbers and smaller scenes.  Eye of Faith company designed the extravagant, eye-catching costumes.  Lighting design, by Jodway and Cairney, was done well, and the set, also designed by Jodway, was simple but clever, easily changed to show different locales.
The show revolves around Deloris Van Cartier, a down-and-out disco-singer on the run from her gangster-boyfriend after she sees him commit murder.  Deloris is played by Kamille Copeland with robust, warm-hearted earthiness and charisma. She has an amazing, rich voice, both for gospel-type numbers and for other kinds of songs. Aided by earnest policeman Ed Souther (“Sweaty Eddie”), capably portrayed by Owen Welch, Deloris seeks sanctuary in Queen Anne’s Convent – an austere contrast to her worldly life.  The convent and its church are also down on their luck: the choir of nuns cannot sing, parishioners are dropping away, and the church is about to be sold.  Beth Rogers as Mother Superior is a perfect contrast to Deloris; she thinks withdrawal from the world is the only way the spirit can survive. Yet each woman has a strong spirit, and Rogers makes her character come alive.  She also has a beautiful voice, in a different register from Copeland’s. The two women’s final recognition of each other as sisters is truly moving.
Desperate about how to manage Deloris, now disguised as Sister Mary Clarence, Mother Superior puts her in charge of the choir – revolutionizing the music and bringing success to the convent (to Mother Superior’s dismay).  The other nuns love Deloris’s energy and music, and even welcome her being Black; she develops a special friendship with young novitiate Sister Mary Roberts, played with sweetness and strength by Byrdie Huffman. Of the various nuns, Catherine Silverglen stands out as the ascerbic older nun, Sister Mary Lazarus, with her great command of comic patter. Also notable is Breann Jodway, who plays the gushing Sister Mary Christina.  And how delicious to have men playing two of the sisters:  Christopher Bull as Sister Mary Mary and Ed Canning as Sister Mary Theresa!
Of the gangsters, Kevin da Silva is appropriately cocky as Delores’s erstwhile boyfriend Curtis. Of Curtis’s three henchmen, Mason Micevski (Pablo) is particularly funny and sly.  Finally, Doug Caldwell is pleasantly deadpan as Monsigneur. As the choir’s fame spreads, the gangsters recognize Deloris on television. Will they track her to the convent? Will she leave? What about Eddie’s crush? Will all these complications lead to a happy ending?  Musical comedy asks us to suspend disbelief, and this show richly rewards us for our “faith” in the story. At the performance I saw, the audience often joined in the singing. Hamilton Theatre Inc. is the oldest company in Hamilton doing musical theatre, and welcomes volunteers for both on-stage and production work.

Sister Act is at HTI, through May 27. Contact the box office to see if tickets become available. (905-522-3032; www.hamiltontheatre.com).

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