Monday, February 26, 2018

Millbrook: "Sister Act" (musical)

The stalwart cast of Sister Act (the musical) bumped their way through the opening night performance by the Millbrook Community Players; beset with illnesses, and with long scene changes and sound imbalances, they managed to produce a charming and sometimes vigorous show. -- Things ought to settle down soon.

Based on the popular 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, the 2006 musical debuted in London before crossing the Atlantic to  mostly favorable reviews. -- It tells the unlikely story of lounge-singer Deloris Van Cartier [Desirae Lewis] who is put into witness protection custody by policeman Eddie Souther [Dre Massey] after she witnessed a gangland murder by her then boyfriend Curtis [Calvin Johnson]. Deloris is placed where nobody would think to find her -- in a convent, with the reluctant cooperation of the Mother Superior [Lavonne Hart], a rigid disciplinarian, and the well intentioned Monsignor O'Hara [Roger Humber].

Her secret safe for the time being, Deloris is introduced to the resident nuns as Sister Mary Clarence; but, after an assortment of renegade mishaps, Sister Mary Clarence's musical abilities are used to transform the nuns' choir into a solid ensemble.

Curtis has sworn to hunt her down and kill her, so when he gets wind of Deloris' whereabouts, he sends his goons to do her in; Joey [Lee Bridges], TJ [Matthew Mitchell] and Pablo [Michael Mims] are stumblebums of the first degree, and provide a good amount of the play's humor.

Director Angie Mitchell and her cast of 36 keep the focus on Deloris and Mother Superior, opposing forces who learn from one another that they can get along and actually respect one another despite their differences. Warnings are given to Deloris to "be inconspicuous", and hopeful refrains like "God has sent you here for a reason", often frustrate Mother Superior into exclamations for God to "give me a sign" that all will be well.

Subplots of a past relationship between Deloris and Eddie the cop that grows into romance, and of Sister Mary Robert's [Morgan Patrenos] doubts about her vocation and wanting to have some life experiences, are glossed over in this production that seem like an afterthought here.

The musical score runs the gamut of musical styles from disco to Motown to soul, and are given appropriate choreography to match. -- Haeley DePace on keyboard and Mark McGuire on drums accompany the cast and set the scenes, but they often drown out the solo voices and even some chorus numbers; they are more restrained in a few introspective songs, letting the actors and their voices do the work.

Ms. Hart does a fine job interpreting her solo songs, with a good amount of irony and questioning of her position in charge of the welfare of the convent. -- The aforementioned gangster trio have a terrifically upbeat time of it.

But, let's face it, the star of the show is Ms. Lewis. She is vivacious from start to finish, and takes command of the stage on every entrance. Plus, her ability to embody Deloris/Sister Mary Clarence, with all her contradictions, is admirable. And it doesn't hurt that she can belt out a song with the best of them. She is the "real deal" in this production. Hats off to her.