Theater Review: ‘Sister Act’
“Sister Act,” though Aug. 20 at The Pennsylvania Playhouse, is an evening of heavenly entertainment, from staging to acting to music direction to set design.
A convert from the hit 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, the musical stage version of “Sister Act” showcases music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner.
Director Chip Rohrbach assembled a well-balanced and talented cast of singer-actors, somewhat of a miracle given that he had to cast 26 performers, most of whom not only have to sing and dance, but also play multiple roles.
Rohrbach manages to effectively block all the bodies on the thrust stage and, along with choreographer Joey Schubert, guide them through a multitude of musical numbers, including two dozen “celibate nuns out there shaking their buns” and imitating a Rockettes’ chorus line.
Heading the cast is Krystle Tate as Deloris Van Cartier, the lapsed Catholic nightclub singer whose self-absorption is tested when she takes refuge from her murderous boyfriend in the convent of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith. A powerful singer, Tate the actor captures the spirit of her character’s initial resistance to the temptation-free convent life and, then leads us convincingly through her conversion to becoming one of the nuns, at least in spirit.
Giving the strongest performance on opening night, Aug. 4, seen for this review, is Vicki Montesano as Mother Superior. Her demeanor as the controlled, yet frustrated top nun is in perfect sync. Despite her practiced calm exterior and measured vocal delivery, she is still able to project a discernible yet subtle intensity of feelings. Her encounters with Deloris are some of the best scenes in the show, and her comic zingers, delivered with a straight face, are classic.
Lori Sivick and Mariah Nagle are charming as Deloris’ followers, Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert. The unholy trinity of Paul Bonnici (Joey), Jalon Mathis (TJ), and Danni Garcia (Pablo) redeemed their characters in their riotous rendition of “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”
The production team deserves high praise for its miraculous role in bringing “Sister Act” to the Pennsylvania Playhouse stage. Brett Oliveira’s set-within-a-set is ingenious, and the interior of the Queen of Angels Church is stunning.
Music director Jennifer Palmero successfully overcomes the monumental challenges of conducting an eight-member orchestra off-stage, and guiding the singers and dancers through 18 musical numbers.
Costumer Mary Catherine Bracali provides her own memorable touch to outfitting the cast by kicking things up a bit.
As is true for all that is earthly, things are rarely perfect. But, on opening night of “Sister Act,” for any small sins against pacing or timing, or for slight singing deficiencies, the audience granted absolution at the end of the play by rising to their feet and clapping their hands together to make a loud and joyous noise. Amen.
Tickets: paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192