As the third show of Pittsburgh Musical Theater (PMT)’s “Magnificent Movie Musicals” season this year, Sister Act is an excitingly soulful production filled with blessings, laughs, great gospel music, and power-house performances.
Based on the 1992 hit comedy film of the same name, Sister Act tells a story of a lounge singer, Deloris Van Cartier, who has been put under protective custody in a convent and has to pretend to be a nun to hide from her mobster boyfriend Curtis Shank after she accidentally witnessing a gangster crime. Originally opened on Broadway in 2011 with book written by Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner, Douglas Carter Beane, new music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater, this is another classic feel-good musical comedy that will keep you on the edge of your seat all night jamming to the great soul-lifting music, while being moved by the touching story at the same time.
The star of the show is played by Pittsburgh native and AMDA graduate Ms. Amanda Foote, who is absolutely a musical star herself. With a powerful voice, an amazing range, and a “less Whoopi Goldberg more Patina Miller” character portrait, every time Ms. Foote steps on stage all eyes are on her and every time she sings the crowd go crazy. Ms. Foote’s equally excellent acting also successfully delivered the Sister Mary Clarence we all know and love and the heroine we would all care and root for in a heart beat. Her show title solo number “Sister Act” in Act II channeled the emotion of the character to a surprising high level and easily became one of the dramatic and musical highlights of the night.
But this show is not just about Deloris the “diva wannabe”. In fact, one of the amazing things about this how is how diverse the ensemble characters are and how the dynamic between Deloris and each single one of them would play out and gradually affect the progression of the plot.
Mother Superior was played by Ms. Allison Cahill, who gave this “old school Maggie Smith” character a great depth. Her solo number “Here Within These Walls” beautifully set up the emotional conflict and struggle for the main plot. And her resolving moment with Deloris in the second Act is one of those tear jerking scenes that would make you want to praise the Lord. Main antagonist Curtis was played by Mr. Brady D. Patsy, who easily managed to bring the coldness and cruelty to the story with songs like “When I Find My Baby”, which was hauntingly comedic and terrifyingly creepy. The subplot love interest “Sweaty Eddie” was played by Mr. Justin Lonesome, who shined in his solo number “I Could Be That Guy” and foreshadowed the triumph in the plot. And the comedic relief Monsignor O’Hara was played by Mr. Tim Hartman, whose “MC” moment in the beginning of second Act with a live raffle ticket drawing (including Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh) on the opening night definitely brought the house down.
And of course, the sisters, the true “wine and bread” of the show. Ms. Nicole Uram played the sweet and innocent Sister Mary Robert, who instantaneously connected with the audience in her solo number “The Life I Never Led”. Ms. Christine Laitta and Ms. Nina Danchenko played Sister Mary Lazarus and Sister Mary Patrick with eye-catching personalities that took home the most laughter of the night. And finally, every single chorus number in the show with the nuns is a show stopping moment.
Composed by the king of Disney music, Alan Menken once again delivered a score full of character and spirit that the first group number “Raise Your Voice” alone is worth the ticket price. And besides occasional tempo and sync issues, those gospel and soulful melodies sounded loud and great as always with the orchestra in the pit led by Music Director Dr. Brent Alexander. And Ms. Lisa Elliott ‘s energetic choreography also added a great beat to the overall narrative.
Because the popularity of the original film and how familiar most audience are with the story of Sister Act, Director Ms. Colleen Doyno gave the show a very fast paced tempo, that some of the plot-driven dramatic scenes were dealt with relatively quickly and more time and attention were focused on the musical elements of the show. But the tech aspect seamlessly balanced the tension by providing an overall stunning impression to the production. Mr. Kevin Kocher’s scenic design kept the momentum of the show going without losing the grandeur of the theatrical reality in each scene. And Ms. Kim Brown and her Spotlight Costumes team wowed the audience by pulling a “William Ivey Long” with a double breakaway and once again proved that her seasonal collaboration with PMT production is truly a “blessing to our show”.
Whether you’re a fan of the original films or have never seen nuns singing and dancing before, Sister Act will bring you all the fun and feels you need to convince yourself join the fan base (or the sisterhood). And if you are still looking for a reason to go to the Byham Theatre this Easter weekend and experience the energy, Director Ms. Colleen Doyno herself said it the best, “Sister Act is truly a heavenly good time!”
Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. Sister Act runs at the Byham Theater until Saturday March 26th, tickets and more information can be found on their website.