What happens when a new musical opens at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse in California and becomes the highest grossing show ever at that venue? Obviously it's grabbed up by a Broadway producer who opens it on the Great White Way. Right? Wrong.
For the musical Sister Act, success took a far less direct path from California to Broadway. After the Pasadena success in 2006, the show played in Atlanta. Then, in 2009, it went across the pond and opened in London to mixed reviews, including one that, with British subtleness, referred to it as "a brainless show."
After a sidetrip to Hamburg (yes, Germany), Sister Act finally opened on Broadway in 2011. It was a newly revised adaptation, which included a slightly different song list than the Brit or Pasadena versions.
Featuring the tunes of songwriter Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater — a blend of Motown, soul and funk, with a little disco thrown in for good measure — the show was praised for its ability to "switch up the mood and tempo."
The results? Five Tony nominations, a successful run, and a much praised North American tour, which graced the State Theatre stage in March 2013. Now the script has been released for local productions and its regional premiere is playing on the Porthouse stage until this weekend.
The musical is based on the 1992 comedy film of the same name, which starred Whoopi Goldberg who, interestingly enough, was the producer of the Broadway production.
The musical, like the movie, concerns Deloris Van Cartier, a street-smart African-American singer "wannabe," who sees Curtis, her boyfriend, shoot a man. She goes to the police and reunites with Sgt. "Sweaty Eddie," who had a crush on her when they were in high school. Fearing for Deloris' life, he places her in protective custody in a broke, soon-to-be-closed church/convent.
The Mother Superior (perfectly portrayed by Tracee Patterson) comes from the mold of nuns of old: those fearsome enforcers of rules who wielded punishing yardsticks and gave lesser human beings the evil eye. They are the purveyors of such wisdom as, "Don't wear patent leather shoes because they reflect up," "Don't go on a date to a restaurant with white tablecloths because it will remind the boy of bed sheets," "Red clothing incites passion," and "Don't wear makeup as it entices the devil."
When Deloris arrives at the mother house, she and Mother Superior are immediately placed in a battle of wills.
Of course, Deloris stirs up the cloistered place, makes the quiet nuns into singing rebels, saves the convent, becomes wimple-buddies with the Mother Superior, and wins Eddie in the process.
Songs such as "It's Good to Be a Nun," "When I Find My Baby," "Raise Your Voice" and "Take Me to Heaven," while not classics, are good Broadway fare. The cast can really sing well and the choreography is fun.
Though she could have "copped" a little more attitude, Colleen Longshaw is "Fabulous, Baby!" as Deloris. Tyrell Reggins wails as Eddie, displaying a strong singing voice and a charming attitude, especially in "I Could Be That Guy."
There are some nice characterizations, including Katelyn Langwith as Sister Mary Robert, a young novice who isn't yet sold on the program and who is influenced by Deloris. Langwith's presentation of "The Life I Never Led" is a tender probe into what happens when life limits your options.
Hannah Quinn is delightful as the uninhibited Sister Mary Patrick. Terri Kent, yes, the artistic director of Porthouse, is amusing and has a great time as the straight-laced Sister Mary Lazarus. Bernadette Hisey is a hoot as Sister Mary Martin-of–Tours, the totally "out of it" member of the sisterhood. Rohn Tomas does a nice turn as Monsignor O'Hara.
Of course, as in any good escapist musical, there have to be showstoppers. And Sister Act is full of them. "Sunday Morning Fever," "Raise Your Voice," "Fabulous, Baby," and the title song, "Sister Act" all get the audience excited.
The supporting cast is excellent. Many play multiple roles with ease.
Jennifer Korecki has her musicians in good tune and they support rather than drown out the performers.
The technical aspects of the show, including the abundance of costumes, are all done well.
Yes, there are flaws. The gangsters aren't gangster enough. The plot is full of plausible holes. But, in the end, the show is fun, a perfect choice for summer entertainment in the lovely Porthouse Theatre on the grounds of the magnificent Blossom Music Center.
Through July 2 at Porthouse Theatre, 3143 O'Neil Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.