That’s what this production of Sister Act is—Broadway quality musical theatre right here in our fair city.
Congratulations to Stages St. Louis for making their 30th diamond anniversary season exquisitely memorable. Opening their season with the heartwarming production of It Shoulda Been You; then taking us on a magical trip down the rabbit hole with Alice In Wonderland. That was followed by the hysterical production of The Drowsy Chaperone, and finally closing it out with a glitzy and glamorous production of Sister Act. Clearly, Stages St. Louis’ brand is quality. And that’s what this production of Sister Act is—Broadway quality musical theatre right here in our fair city.
Based on the 1992 movie of the same name, which starred Miss Whoopi Goldberg, this show follows the same basic plot with a couple fresh twists thrown in to keep things interesting. Deloris Van Cartier (Dan’yelle Williamson) is an up and coming singer who thinks her boyfriend Curtis (Kent Overshown) will help her make it to the top. Curtis has other, more sinister, business to attend to and when Deloris witnesses Curtis shooting one of his own crew, she is forced to go on the lam.
She runs to the police where she reunites with a high-school crush, Eddie (Curtis Wiley). Eddie plans on using Deloris as an ace witness against Curtis and stashes her away in The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith convent—the last place anyone would be looking for the flamboyant singer. The convent is struggling to keep their doors open and the last thing Mother Superior (Corinne Melançon) needs is another distraction, but as she eventually finds out, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Deloris is a rough fit into the order, but soon has a revelation that by using her show business savvy, she can turn the convent’s choir from ghastly to graceful.
When the choir starts putting on disco inspired performances, things really take off for the church and prayers are answered. But with fame comes consequences, and Curtis and his gang see Deloris in the newspaper. They make their way to silence her once and for all. The show culminates in a clash of good and evil reconciling Deloris’ fate once and for all.
While the show hits all the main points of the movie, what is missing are the soul classics that gave the movie its edge (which I can only assume was due to the massive clearance rights of those songs). Nevertheless, Alan Menken does a sensational job in creating a whole new score for the show while Glenn Slater crafted some very impressive lyrics.
What I found interesting about the music was when several of the song songs started I thought they might just be filler songs, but each and every musical number unfolds delicately and builds gradually to a magnificent finish. Each of the songs serves a purpose and gives each of the characters in the show a chance to shine in their own right.
Each of Deloris’ songs are wondrous, and Williamson belted them out with intensity and drop-dead gorgeous vocals. Speaking of Williamson, this talented actress is a star with a capital S. Not only were her vocals out of this world wonderful, her laser-like focus on landing each of her lines with humor and professionalism was a joy to watch. She is the kind of actress that commands respect and adoration with the amount of dedication she puts into her roles. Move over Idina; my diva shelf has a new tenant, Miss Dan’yelle Williamson.
Melançon as Mother Superior was, well, superior. I first enjoyed Melançon as the Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone, fell in love with her performances at Stages’ fundraiser Off the Record, and now have become a die-hard fan with this performance in Sister Act. Only having the hole in the nun’s habit to act through, Melançon’s body language was brilliant as she threw enough shade with just her eyebrows to nearly steal the show. But Melançon is a tried-and-true professional and worked brilliantly in tandem with Williamson. The tension between these two amazing actresses was a delight to watch as they pushed and pulled each other to high levels of excellence.
This entire production was overstuffed with excellent performances. Steve Isom got jiggy with it in his role as Monsignor O’Hara, killing every one of his comedic lines with a sparkle in his eye. Wiley, in his role as Eddie, was magnificent as he is a vocal powerhouse and is overwhelmingly charming. Overshown was so convincing as the bad guy that his stage call warranted plenty of good-natured boos, and Kevin Curtis was noticeably exceptional as Curtis’ nephew T.J.
A special nod goes to John Flack. Flack always seems to make the most out of each of his roles. While normally used in smaller roles at Stages, (as Uncle Morty in It Shoulda Been You, Underling in The Drowsy Chaperone, and a host of smaller roles in Sister Act) I have come to respect and appreciate what Flack brings to a production – class, humor, and sophistication. I was distraught when his character Ernie was killed off early in the first act, but I had a feeling he would “Pope,” er I mean pop up again during the evening. My favorite performance of the night by Flack was as the Dive Bartender; Willie Nelson would be proud.
Now, on to the nuns. As a group, they were heavenly. This ensemble worked as a finely tuned unit in each of their production numbers. While I could go into each of their performances and comment on their individual merits, the group as a whole was breathtaking to watch. That said, it was rewarding to see Michelle Burdette Elmore get significantly more stage time in her role as Sister Mary Lazarus. The fact that she pulled off gangsta rapping for the Lord was remarkable and left the audience howling in their seats. Also, Sarah Michelle Cuc’s performance as Sister Mary Patrick was delightfully enjoyable as her energetic, positive spirit was perfectly fantastic.
Director Michael Hamilton proves time and time again he knows how to get the most out of his cast and staff and this production is no exception. While he had a stacked deck of talented performers onstage, his technical staff was also equally impressive. What choreographer Stephen Bourneuf achieved with this cast is nothing short of theatrical brilliance. Each of the dance numbers were very memorable and well conceived it is hard to fathom the amount of work he and the performers had to accomplish before the show opened. There should be a special award for Brad Musgrove for the dazzling costumes he and his crew crafted. I felt as if this production was a master class in costuming engineering. Musgrove’s designs need to be put in a museum on display; they are truly remarkable.
While I adored this incarnation of Sister Act, the proof is in the production. Stages St. Louis has already had to add another matinee—on Thursday, September 29 at 2 p.m. Sister Act is a fun, flashy ride full of colorful characters, eye-catching dance numbers, and memorable performances. It is sure to make you jump up and say “Hallelo!”
Congratulations to both executive director Jack Lane and director Michael Hamilton on creating a hell of a show, a magnificent season, and brilliant legacy of musical theatre. | Jim Ryan
Sister Act runs through October 9 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre located at 111 S. Geyer Road. For show times and ticket prices, please visit StagesStLouis.org.
Photo: Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoStl.com