Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following resiview of SISTER ACT at Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT)
Through July 1st
“Big, glitzy numbers are the toast of Broadway musicals. The only thing better? Big, glitzy numbers…with nuns!” I wish I had said that originally, but, in fact, Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post said it in her review of Sister Act when it opened on Broadway in 2011. However, that encapsulated review could just as easily apply to Westchester Broadway Theatre’s (WBT) production of Sister Act. It was based on the hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and written by Joseph Howard. The musical version features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Cheri Steinkellner & Bill Steinkellner (with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane).
WBT’s production of Sister Act is – in a word – heavenly. Okay, that may sound a bit trite – even cheesy, but Sister Act certainly lives up to its subtitle: A Divine Musical Comedy. You do not have to be a refugee from parochial schools to enjoy it; there are non-denominational belly laughs throughout. Indeed, the story, which is as old as Gutenberg’s original printing press – about a fish out of water (in this case a streetwise gun moll) who is forced to get some “old time religion” (at a nunnery no less) where both culture and values clash like the proverbial irresistible force tackling the immovable object.
Donna Drake did an outstanding job taking on the direction and choreography of the show. Ms. Drake makes full use of WBT’s ample proscenium and vomitoriums. The pacing is fast and furious; and the splashes of choreography interwoven throughout the play are wonderfully staged. Kudos also must go to Bob Bray for Musical Direction.
Of course, the casting is of empyreal origin (sorry, I couldn’t resist the metaphor). The lead, Deloris Van Cartier is played to a fault by quadruple threat Zuri Washington. Not only can Ms. Washington act, sing, and dance, but she can hang notes in the air better than championship hang gliders. After watching Ms. Washington’s performance, I must admit that Whoopi Goldberg’s comedic cinematic performance became a distant memory.
Another vocal hang glider is the talented Lani Corson as Sister Mary Robert who sings more like an angel than a nun. Her solo “The Life I Never Lead” is terrific. Mary Jo McConnell makes a great Mother Superior: a lot of hard bark on the outside, but a vulnerable inner core. (I’m sure that Ms. McConnell’s three-year stint as a Captain in the US Army Nurse Corps contributed to her commanding stage presence.) Ken Jennings as the perennial befuddled and easily influenced Monsignor O’Hara, brings just the right mixture of ineptitude displayed by the characters of Barney Fife and Captain Parmenter of F Troop. Philip Michael Baskerville plays the villain Curtis Jackson who you really want to hate, but whose charisma oozes through his evil pores until you cannot help but like him, even though he is a killer. The same can be said of Curtis’ posse/henchmen: Jayson Elliot (Joey); Jason Long (Pablo) and Corben Williams (TJ). There really is a North Pole and Corben is from there – live and learn. The evil trio’s number, “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” is side-splitting. Shout-outs also must go to Katelyn Lauria as Sister Mary Patrick and the hysterical Sandy Rosenberg as Sister Mary Lazarus.
In big, glitzy musicals, the line between principal and ensemble is often blurry at best. What matters is that a show like Sister Act cannot be successful without the multi-talented ensemble and the unseen but not unheard musicians. So here is a nod to all of those unsung heroes: Melanie Burg, Joanna Noelle Caruso, Kevin Curtis, Sincée J. Daniels, Hannah Eakin, Héctor Flores Jr, José Plaza, Stefanie Sable, Jessi St. George, T. Shyvonne Stewart, Karen Webb (including Keyonna Knight who is the non-performing swing whose Herculean task is to fill in for just about everybody on a moment’s notice).
Out of habit (sorry) I must give props to Heather Carey (Costume Designer), Steve Loftus (Set Designer) and Gerard Kelly (Wig/Hair Design).
Overall, WBT’s Sister Act is a little piece of Heaven here on Earth. Don’t miss out!
When you’ve just seen a production that is darn near perfection, it’s a divinely exhilarating experience, and that’s just what you’ll get at Westchester Broadway Theatre’s Sister Act. It’s an exuberant delight that will have you smiling from ear to ear with music that’s so enlivening you’ll be itching to get up from your seats and dance right along with the uber-talented cast. Based on the fab 1992 comedy film Sister Act, you’ll love this stage incarnation whether or not you’ve seen it on the big screen.
When a brash lounge singer who goes by the name Deloris Van Cartier is in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses a murder, she knows she’s in for it – in fact, she’s soon running for her life. It’s her gangster boss/beau Curtis Jackson who’s got an itchy trigger finger and he could care less about their prior “relationship.” The frightened Deloris seeks protection from jittery police desk chief, Eddie Souther, a former high school classmate (who also happened to have had a crush on Deloris). Of all places, this jazzy fish-out-of-water has to hide out in a convent.
Uptight Mother Superior is less than happy about the arrangement. And despite Deloris’s singing prowess and her ability to bring out the best in her new “sisters” – both in them personally and their choir – she’s not entirely welcomed into the fold. Now if she can just stay under the radar and not blow her cover!
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane), Westchester takes this outrageous production to new heights. Expertly directed and choreographed by Donna Drake, with Rhonda Miller as Associate Director/Choreographer Sister Act stars Zuri Washington as Deloris – she’s an incredibly talented songbird who embodies the role. Danny Wilfred as Eddie is endearing and demonstrates nice chemistry with Washington. Philip Michael Baskerville as gangster club owner Curtis Jackson is fabulous as the guy you love to hate.
Mary Jo McConnell is incredible as the stern, no-nonsense Mother Superior. Under her are the potpourri of personalities who light up the convent: Lani Corson (who also is Dance Captain) is wonderful as Sister Mary Robert, the young postulant who blossoms before our eyes in Deloris’s light; Katelyn Lauria as Sister Mary Patrick is delightful as the giddy, always smiling nun who embraces every moment of life. Cranky choir mistress Sister Mary Lazarus is played to the hilt by Sandy Rosenberg – her break out rap is quite the hoot! Ken Jennings as Monsignor O’Hara is knock-down, drag-out hysterical.
As Curtis’s thugs, Jayson Elliot as Joey, Jason Long as Pablo, and Corben Williams as TJ bring on the fun, most especially in their brilliantly delivered musical number “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” The Ensemble, who play the rest of the nuns in the convent and assorted other characters are a terrifically talented group: Stefanie Sable (who also plays Michelle, a vocalist at Curtis’s club); T. Shyvonne Stewart (who also plays Tina, a vocalist at Curtis’s club); Melanie Burg; Joanna Noelle Caruso; Kevin Curtis; Sincée J. Daniels; Hannah Eakin, Héctor Flores, Jr.; José Plaza: Jessie St. George; and Karen Webb. Shout-outs also to non-performing Swing, Keyonna Knight.
Kudos to Bob Bray as Musical Director and on keyboards and the talented musicians: John Bowen, Assistant Musical Director and on keyboards; James Mack on percussion; Jordan Janez on bass; Brian Uhl on trumpet; Steven Bleifuss on trombone; Wayne Tice on reed; and Von Ann Stutler as musical contractor. Kudos also to Steve Loftus for wonderful set design; to Heather Carey for costumes; Andrew Gmoser for lighting; Mark Zuckerman for sound design; and Gerard Kelly for wig/hair design.
Just as the closing number tells us to “Spread the Love Around,” Westchester most certainly does. For a feel-good time, Sister Act is one you won’t want to miss!