Hallelujah! Sister Act comes to Community Players

by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder

What happens when nuns, guns, gangsters, and gospel come together on the same stage?  We’ll have the chance to find out when Sister Act comes to Community Players.

Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, whose dreams of a successful singing career are interrupted when she witnesses her gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson rub out a squealing member of his mob.  Deloris runs to the local police station and tells her story to Eddie, an old high school chum, now a cop.  He knows that Deloris needs a safe place to hide out until she can testify against Jackson, and he has the perfect spot: a convent, where she can pretend to be a nun.

Deloris chafes under the convent’s strict rules of behavior, and the Mother Superior prays for guidance, wondering how do you solve a problem like Deloris.  Luckily, Deloris finds the one place in the convent where she can use her talents: the choir.  She quickly turns the ragtag and toneless group into rafter-raising belters.  The choir’s success brings in new parishioners (and their donations), saves the church from being sold, and earns an invitation to sing before the pope.  But will all this attention also draw the eye of a desperate gangster eager to silence a noisy witness?

The stage version of Sister Act, with music by Alan Menken (of Little Mermaid fame), lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, had developmental productions in Pasadena and Atlanta before premiering in London in 2009.  In 2011, the show emigrated to Broadway, retaining London star Patina Miller but little else.  A new director, Jerry Zaks, was brought in, and the book was rewritten by Douglas Carter Beane.  The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, winning none, but nonetheless, it ran for 561 performances.

Our production is blessed with two terrific leads in Latrisha Green as Deloris Van Cartier (a.k.a. pseudo-sister Mary Clarence) and Sharon Russell as the Mother Superior. Ms. Green is a natural for the role and nails the pop-vocal style of her songs.  Ms. Russell gives our Mother Superior the kind of voice that one would climb every mountain to hear.  They are joined by a solid and energetic supporting cast.  Scott Myers is a hoot as Monsignor O’Hara and Archie Jay is inspiring as well as perspiring as police lieutenant “Sweaty” Eddie. Charles Andrews as Curtis Jackson is the baddest of the bad guys.  He is joined by his gang, played by Billy Blue as TJ, Paul Vellella as Joey, and Joe Culpepper as Pablo.

Much of the action of the play takes place in the The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith Convent, which is host to more than a dozen nuns, most of whom are named Mary.  There’s shy Sister Mary Robert, perky Sister Mary Patrick, and choir leader Sister Mary Lazarus, played by Sarah Bertram, Maggie Paloucek, and Jen Maloy, respectively.  These three get their collective moments to shine in several of the musical numbers, and Ms. Bertram gets her own wonderful moment in “The Life I Never Led.” The other sisters are a variety of sizes, shapes, and ages and all enjoy rocking and rolling.  They are played by Opal Virtue, Juliet Wright, Christie Vellella, Kallie Bundy, Kayla Smith, Grace Winterland, Patti Wood, Reena Rhoda, Elaine Hill, Amy Barlin, Darlene Lloyd, and Ali Lockenvitz. 

Felicia Jiardina and Daija Nealy are Deloris’ backup singers Tina and Michelle.  Jay Hartzler, Anthony Overton, Darraugh Griffin, Jeff Ready, Wendi Ayers, Christina Dean, and Sage Brown round out the cast.  Be sure to stay for the finale as one of Players’ most venerable patriarchs gives a brief cameo as Pope Paul VI.

Marcia Weiss directs all this silliness.  Chris Terven and Sally Baugh are co-producers.  The music director is Kyle Hoffman, and Rusty Russell is vocal coach.  Chris Terven is also choreographer with assistance from dance captains Erica O’Neill, Jessa Hendricker, and Kelly Rosendahl. Mark Wright is lighting designer, and Eli Mundy is sound designer.  Opal Virtue is costumer, and Dorothy Mundy is doing properties with assistance from Jennifer Bethmann. Ashleigh Feger is assistant director and sound operator.  And, as if Chris Terven weren’t busy enough as co-producer and choreographer, he is also master builder for the set.

The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is Thursday, November 2, with regular performances November 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19.  Please note that other than the Preview performance, there are no Thursday performances.  Sunday matinees are at 2:30; all other performances begin at 7:30


Photos by John Lieder