Addison — Some argue that perfection is not achievable. Perhaps not, but if so then the season-opening production of Sister Act at WaterTower Theatre is the closest we can come to it. This creative team and cast, assembled and guided by director Cheryl Denson, have brought their best to this show and it is marvelous. Musical director Adam C. Wright, and choreographer Kellie Carroll, have given the cast the support needed to deliver their powerhouse performances.
Sister Act is the musical comedy is based on the same-titled Touchstone Pictures comedic film written by Joseph Howard. The 1992 film, starring Whoopi Goldberg, is still regarded as one of the most popular and commercially successful movie comedies of the 1990s. Whoopi was one of the producers of the Broadway production along with Stage Entertainment. However, she was not associated with the very first production of the musical, which was in 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse.
For this current 2011 iteration of the musical, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner wrote the book with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Douglas Carter Beane wrote additional book material.
Deloris Van Cartier (Cherish Robinson) is a lounge singer with dreams of making it big and having her own mainstage act. She is performing in the club along with singers Michelle (Ashley Waddy) and Tina (Cleo Lissade) which is owned by her abusive gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (John Avant III). It is Christmas Eve and he has given her a tasteless jacket that has his wife’s name sewn in the collar. Hurt, Deloris decides to confront him but instead walks in just after he has killed someone. Realizing she has become a witness to a major crime, Deloris escapes. Jackson sends his thugs after her: TJ (Sheridan Monroe), Joey Diaz (Bryson Petersen), and Pablo (Gustavo Perez Diaz).
Deloris runs into the police station and reports everything to Eddie Souther, a childhood schoolmate everyone called “Sweaty Eddie” (Jamall Houston). Eddie has had a crush on her since high school. He decides Deloris needs to go into the witness protection program and selects a convent as the perfect place to hide her.
He convinces the wary Mother Superior (Mary Tiner) to accept this responsibility and Deloris is introduced to the other sisters as Sister Mary Clarence. They suspect nothing: shy Sister Mary Robert (Laura Lyman Payne), Sister Mary Patrick (Caitlyn Polson), Sister Mary Lazarus (Laurel Collins), Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (Ivy Opdyke), and Sister Mary Theresa (Laura Yancey). Filling the rest of the ensemble are Sister Mary Lucia (Thi Le), Sister Mary Irene (Margaret Vogel), Sister Mary Stephen (Crystal Williams), Sister Mary Celeste (Ursula Villarreal), Branden A. Bailey and Jeremy Davis.
Monsignor O’Hara (Chance Harmon) informs Mother Superior that a buyer has been identified for the convent and it will be sold. As might be expected, Deloris is having difficulty adjusting to convent life, so Mother Superior decides she needs an assignment: to work with the sisters’ choir. She does. The choir becomes so good and popular that the Pope has decided he wants to hear them during his visit to the city. Through Deloris popularization of the choir, she becomes visible through TV appearances, blowing her cover and revealing her location to Curtis.
After seeing Mary Tiner in this role, it is hard to imagine anyone else as Mother Superior. She is fabulous. Cherish Robinson strikes the right tone as Deloris, delivering her as a nightclub singer with dreams of stardom but not at any cost. Deloris works in Curtis’ world but is not of it. The act one duet between these two characters, “Here Within These Walls,” is stunning.
For all of the singing Deloris does in this show, she surprisingly has only one solo which comes in the second act, “Sister Act.” Cherish is magnificent in this number.
Jamall Houston pulls at hearts as Eddie in “I Could Be That Guy,” supported by the bums, Tj, Joey and Pablo (Monroe, Petersen and Diaz). The choreography on this number is a monologue on its own.
Joey, Pablo and TJ bring everything to “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” That is a fantastic number, nicely choreographed.
The moment which took the audience by surprise and brought them to their feet was sung by Laura Lyman Payne (Sister Mary Robert), “The Life I Never Led.” What an acting piece, this song. It would be so easy to deliver that as a presentational song, but it really isn’t. It is a rich scene. To watch Payne tell her story through this song and find her voice as the character, was joyous. That is how one delivers a song in musical theatre.
The music has a consistently full, tight sound thanks to conductor and keyboardist Adam C. Wright and musicians Paul Birk (trombone), Michael Dill (wind synth), Kevin Gunter (Synthesizer), Michael Ptacin (percussion), Rick Norman (bass), Carlos Strudwick (trumpet) Chad Ostermiller (reeds) and Aaron Sutton (guitar).
A nod should go to the sound designer, Mark Howard, because balancing sound for musicals in that space is not a simple undertaking.
The design decisions for this show are efficient, intelligent, and multi-functional, all of which happen to be part of Denson’s signature aesthetic. Set pieces and props (Jane Quetin) move on and off but Donna Marquet’s set itself supports all locations in the story.
Julie Simmons’ lighting design is snappy and classy, which in less adept hands could become chaotic if not impossible, but the show calls for it and she has found her sweet spot with the lighting.
Fans of the movie should expect to enjoy this musical even more. Fans of musical theatre should not miss. From acting to singing to production values to direction and design, this Sister Act is heaven sent.