Holy heaven it’s time to raise your voice because the good news has arrived! The five-time Tony Award nominated musical Sister Act has descended from on high right into the midst of Baltimore at the Hippodrome Theatre as a part of the Broadway Across America— CareFirst Hippodrome Broadway Series. With Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, and Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, this sensational show is preaching the good word all around. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Stage Entertainment and Troika Entertainment, and inspired by the movie, this is one feel-good musical that will have the audience raising their voice before all is said and done.
Nothing says the era of disco like a good lights show and Sister Act has stellar lighting effects created by Lighting Designer Natasha Katz. The enormous drop-down grid of blinking colored lights that backlights Deloris during her initial club performance scenes is the defining keystone to the 1970’s era in which the show takes place. Katz’ approach to lighting up the hall of worship inside the convent has a similar approach with multi-colored strobe lighting effects reflecting behind the stained glass windows during large ensemble numbers like “Take Me To Heaven” and “Sunday Morning Fever.” These light pulsations help to drive the rhythm and beat of the music, giving it an authentic 70’s disco feeling.
The 1970’s never experienced so much glitter and glitz as they do in this production. Costume Designer Lez Brotherston packs enough glitter to impress the pope into this production with all of her radiant dazzling costumes. The ending number alone is so coated in glitter and glitz that heaven’s holy light from above looks like a candle fading dimly in the darkness. With every progression of the nun choir, the costumes become more elaborately encrusted with glitzy shiny accents, making for one hell of a production number by the final song. Brotherston creates a shining symphony of glimmering glowing costumes throughout the performance, and hones in on the key markers of 70’s fashion in the process— including the fuchsia suede “FM” boots that make a journey of their own before all is said and done.
For a high-energy musical the dancing has to be intense, and Choreographer Anthony Van Laast makes it so. From smaller trio and quartet routines featured in the boys’ numbers like “When I Find My Baby” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” to the big holy roller numbers like “Sunday Morning Fever”, Van Laast keeps the groove of the era ever-present. “I Could Be That Guy” features a great deal of “hustle” like moves as well as other signature 70’s dance moves that keep the audience wildly entertained. Gospel jazz dancing never looked so good than when it’s being jumped through by a dozen nuns during numbers like “Take Me to Heaven Reprise” and “Sister Act.”
The ensemble does a great deal of work as nuns to sound pitiful and pathetic before the ‘Deloris’ intervention. There is nothing quite so humorous as a bunch of nuns trying to sing the praises of the good book horrifically off-key and out of synch with one another. Once they find their voices and the sound improves, the female ensemble proves that they are indeed capable of making joyful noises. “Raise Your Voice” becomes the prime example of this transition. “Bless Our Show” is another exceptional number, with excellent full sound that brings the rapture of belief to the foreground of the performance.
For as exceptional as the female ensemble members are, the males falter in their ability to impress. Having register and pitch issues in spotty occurrence throughout the production the five male characters depend on their comedy to carry off the show. Curtis (Melvin Abston) and his gang of thugs (Tad Wilson, Chris Chatman, and Charles Barksdale) are not particularly well endowed singers but make up for what they lack vocally with pizzazz in the dance department.
‘Sweaty Eddie’ (Chester Gregory) has similar vocal issues for his solo near the end of the performance and the beginning and end of “I Could Be That Guy.” Gregory redeems his performance, however, with a sensational blast of sound in his higher range in the middle of that comic empowering ballad number, and even goes so far as to wow the audience with an impressive triple costume change mid song. Gregory develops as suave sense of charm as his character grows, changing from the nerdy little desk cop to the sleek protector of Deloris. His dance moves are worth a note of praise as well during his big dream number.
Comedy is ripe within the walls of the convent. Sister Mary Lazarus (Roberta B. Wall) and Sister Mary Patrick (Florrie Bagel) are heaping on the hilarity all throughout the production. Wall delivers a stinging sense of sarcasm while Bagel relies on a more spastic and bubbly approach to her humor. Bagel brings an exceptionally boisterous voice to the mix, which is heard ringing through every rafter in “Sunday Morning Fever.” Her dancing in this number is particularly bombastic and causes a great deal of hilarious commotion in this scene.
Sister Mary Robert (Ashley Moniz) starts off as the timid meek little postulant who really has no idea what she’s doing in the convent. Moniz’ miniscule sound is quickly banished when she finds a heavenly belt in “Raise Your Voice” and again later during her featured solo “The Life I Never Led.” The vocal power and clarity that Moniz brings to that song is astounding; a true Godsend that is received with thunderous applause. Discovering the power within her character translates to the best belt in the production at the end of that solo; an intense force of genuine truth radiating out from her soul like a blinding beacon of faith come to fruition.
Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’rea Campbell) is a sassy, albeit naïve, disco diva who finds herself in quite the predicament leading to her time in the convent. Campbell initially lacks enthusiasm and energy in her performance, going through the motions from the top of the show until she hits “Raise Your Voice.” But once Campbell finds her energy she is a blasting knockout of raw talent and fiery fierce attitude that turns the entire show around. Leading the sisters through fabulously fantastic numbers like “Take Me to Heaven Reprise” and “Sister Act” Campbell comes into her own and really blows the audience away with her ability to shine.
It’s Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) who truly lives up to her namesake in this production. Stealing the show with her witty quips upon Deloris’ arrival to the convent, Resnik proves that she is the triple threat of singing, acting and comedic delivery. The brisk and clipped nature that she uses to address nearly everyone is reminiscent of every Reverend Mother come before her, and her ability to let the punch lines of well devised jokes land naturally is comic brilliance at its finest. It’s her song “Haven’t Got a Prayer” that is truly exceptional. Showcasing an impressive vocal range as well as ability to sing and patter through a number, and alternate flawlessly between the two, Resnik owns this number with such an intensity while still finding the humor and sincerity in it that it is one of the best solo numbers in the production. Even the pope would be impressed with Resnik’s stunning performance; a phenomenal talent delivering fabulous work consistently throughout the performance.
These holy rollers are just going to keep on rolling so be sure to grab your tickets to Sister Act before they roll right on out of town and up to the next set of shiny gates that comes along.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.