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Sister Act, The Musical

Hey, lady, in the long black dress,
Let me give you something to confess.
— Bones, TJ, Dinero

Sister Act the Musical
Dawnn Lewis as Deloris and Elizabeth Ward Land as Mother Superior in Sister Act The Musical/
(Photo: )
This blend of sex and spirituality sets the tone for this musical , based on the two popular Sister Act movies starring Whoopie Goldberg as a nun on the run who is really lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (originally Carter). Premiering at The Pasadena Playhouse with Broadway in its sights, the excellent production supports a bouncy, if uneven, score by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics), and a glitzy jubilation that will probably overcome its flaws with one more run through the musical computer.

Deloris is in the witness protection program because she saw her boyfriend Curtis Shank shoot a man. Police Sgt. Eddie Souther, who has had a crush on Deloris since high school (where she remembers him as Sweaty Eddie) stashes her in a convent which needs the money. The conflict in the convent is between Deloris, now Sister Mary Clarence, and Mother Superior, a traditional nun of the old school. Deloris gets her chance at choir practice to set the muted plainsong of those glum nuns on the path to gospel music, where they can literally spread the "good news" (the Biblical translation of gospel) to a wider audience.

So much for plot. The book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, based on the movie by Joseph Howard, takes the clichés and runs with them, feinting and twisting so deftly that the more ludicrous patches in a story that's far fetched to begin with hardly matter. What matters in a musical is the music and not the production.

The program reads set in Philadelphia "some time ago" but it's definitely before 1960 as the music is definitely from that era. On the musical score card, the ones that should definitely stay include "Raise Your Voice" and "How I Got The Calling" sung by Deloris and the Nuns. The brothers more than hold their own against the sisters. "I Could Be That Guy" is a surprising show-stopper delivered with low-key yearning by David Jennings who makes a wistful comic hero out of Sgt. Eddie, and "Lady In The Long Black Dress" is a sly stand-alone ballad by Shank’s wonderful gangsta trio, TJ (Melvin Abston), Bones (Danny Stiles) and Dinero (Dan Domenech). "Dress To Kill" sung by Curtis Shank (Harrison White) takes power dressing to a whole new level. You are what you wear!

The end of Act I needs a second look. After Sister Mary Clarence’s break-through choir practice with the nuns culminating in the rafter-shaking "Raise Your Voice", we don’t need "Take Me To Heaven." which is sung by the nuns’ choir and reprises the same song sung at the beginning of the Act by Deloris and her lounge singers Kay-T (Patina Renea Miller) and Larosa (Badia Farha), but with a decidedly different slant. As for a message, it's somewhere in this familiar concept but it comes at the wrong time.

Dawnn Lewis plays Deloris with sizzle, vim and a voice which combines a belter’s power with a chanteuse’s sweetness. As the Mother Superior, Elizabeth Ward Land with her pure soprano follows the nun’s arc from steely determination to a truer acceptance of spirituality. She has a look that’s reminiscent of Glenn Close and she’s not the only evocative presence in the choir. As Sister Mary Lazarus, Audrie Neenan bears a striking resemblance to the late great comedienne Mary Wickes and as Sister Mary Patrick, Amy K. Murray rouses echoes of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the wonderful character in Guys and Dolls. Beth Malone plays the little novice Sister Mary Robert with gamin charm though gets a little shrill in the upper register. All these Sisters have wonderful acting chops tthat make their scenes a delight.

The brisk jubilation of Peter Schneider’s direction doesn’t miss a beat, abetted by Marguerite Derricks’ choreography. David Potts’ scenic design incorporates descending discs that represent stained glass windows but have a sneaking resemblance to record discs.

SISTER ACT The Musical
Music: Alan Menken. Lyrics: Glenn Slater. Book: Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, based on Joseph Howard’s movie
Director: Peter Schneider
Choreographer: Marguerite Derricks
Cast: Dawnn Lewis (Deloris), Elizabeth Ward Land (Mother Superior), Harrison White (Shank), David Jennings (Sgt. Eddie), TJ (Melvin Abston), Bones (Danny Stiles), Dinero (Dan Domenech), Kay-T (Patina Renea Miller), Larosa (Badia Farha), Sister Mary Patrick (Amy K. Murray), Sister Mary Robert (Beth Malone), Sister Mary Lazarus (Audrie Neenan), Sister Mary Hope (Andi Gibson), Sister Mary Bertrand (Roberta B. Wall), Sister Mary Edward (Lisa Robinson), Sister Mary Dominique (Claci Miller), Sister Mary Gabriel (Wendy Melkonian), Sister Mary Augustine (Wendy James), Monsignor Howard (Henry Polic II)
Scenic Design: David Potts
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costume Design: Garry Lennon
Sound Design: Carl Casella and Domonic Sack
Hair & Wig Design: Carol F. Doran
Running Time: Two hours and a half with one intermission
Running Dates: October 24 to December 17, 2006
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino, Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 9
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Light My Way / Mother Superior
  • Take Me To Heaven / Deloris, Kay-T, Larosa
  • Fabulous, Baby / Deloris
  • A Simple Life / Mother Superior
  • How I Got The Calling / Sister Mary Patrick & Mary Lazarus, Deloris, Nuns
  • Dress To Kill / Shank & his trio
  • Goin’ To Hell / Sister Mary Patrick & Lazarus, Biker Chicks
  • I Could Be That Guy / Eddie
  • Raise Your Voice / Deloris, Nuns
  • Take Me To Heaven (reprise) /Nuns and Deloris
Act Two
  • Sunday Morning Fever / Company
  • Lady in the Long Black Dress /Bones, TJ, Dinero
  • A Simple Life (reprise) / Nuns
  • Sister Act / Deloris, Mother Superior
  • The Life I Never Led / Sister Mary Robert
  • Would It Kill Me? / Deloris
  • I Haven’t Got A Prayer / Mother Superior
  • Light My Way / Deloris & Nuns
  • Mirror Ball / Company
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