Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot of Sister Act is fairly simple and similar to other films or shows where a person witnesses a crime and has to hide out in a disguise until they can serve as a witness at trial. In this case, the person is Deloris van Cartier, a lounge singer with big dreams who accidentally sees her boyfriend Curtis, a married man and a gangster, kill one of his men who he thinks squealed to the police. In her attempt to flee, Deloris runs into a police station and finds her former high school friend Eddie, who is now a cop. Eddie, who always had a crush on Deloris, hides her away at a local convent. However, not only is the convent run by a stern Mother Superior, but it's in financial trouble due to low attendance at mass. Deloris and the Mother Superior often butt heads, especially when Deloris uses many of her lounge moves and songs in an attempt to improve the choir. With an offer to buy the church and turn it into an antique shop and Curtis getting closer to discovering where Deloris is hiding, these two opposites are forced to work together.
While the plot is fairly predictable and follows the main plot points in the film script fairly closely, some updates have been made to the period and setting, with the story now set in Philadelphia in the 1970s instead of San Francisco in the 1990s. That change allows the score by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics) to incorporate a range of musical styles, from disco to pop, soul and hip-hop, with Slater's lyrics and rhymes especially fun. The book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane, creates realistic characters and meaningful moments that are emotional and comical but also honest and sincere.
Ashley White and Kathleen Richards were excellent when they appeared in the 2018 production of the show at Hale and their performances are just as wonderful and even more refined now. White is a powerhouse as Deloris. Her energy level is high and her ability to make the cocky and sure-of-herself woman someone we care for only grows when Deloris realizes she doesn't have any true friends that could take her in and that the nuns at the convent are the only family she has. White has excellent stage presence and a powerful singing voice that makes every song she sings a showstopper. Even though the role of the Mother Superior is a lot less colorful than the role of Deloris, Richards is incredible in her ability to, with just a few facial expressions or glances, make us clearly understand the intricacies of this stern, by-the-book, woman. Her solo in act two shows off her powerful singing voice.
Trevon Powell oozes charm as Eddie, the soft-spoken and sweet policeman. Powell's warm singing voice shines on the solo "I Could Be That Guy," which starts slow but has some fun surprises that turn it into a winning moment. Ivana Martinic, Gina Guarino, and Lily Nelson are fantastic as a trio of nuns who befriend Deloris. Martinic is hilarious as the joyful and zany Sister Mary Patrick; Guarino is a hoot as Sister Mary Lazarus, the convent's current choir director; and Nelson is sensational as the demure and shy novice Sister Mary Robert who hasn't gotten the calling yet and isn't certain if the life of a nun is in store for her. All three shine on their songs, including Guarino's very funny rap moment, and Nelson's strong voice soars on her solo, "The Life I Never Led."
Gary Pimentel is fun as the Monsignor, while Jared Kitch is appropriately imposing as Curtis. Ray Barcelo, Kyle Webb, and Reece Harris humorously play Curtis' trio of comical henchmen, and Meka Sampler and Shaylee Flanagan are great as Deloris' backup singers and a few other roles. The rest of the ensemble includes Nikki Reeves, Priscilla Bertling, Joshua South, Jeremy Cruz, Kayleah Wilson, Josephine Maldonado, Michala Montano, Amanda Valenzuela, and Ariana Lucius and each manages to bring something distinguishable to the nun, altar boy, and other characters they play.
Cambrian James' direction and choreography are top notch. His period-perfect dance steps set the show clearly in the 1970s and are danced well by the entire cast, while his clear direction delivers well rounded and realistic portrayals. While McKenna Carpenter's set design is fairly simple, the few set elements along with Boyd Cluff's projections working well to establish the various locations in the show. Tia Hawkes' costumes are sharp and appropriate, as are James' wigs and make-up, which have some fun 1970s touches, and the lighting by Pat Downes provides colorful pops along with some gorgeous shadows and darker moments for the scenes in the dimly light convent. Music director Dr. Cathy Hauan derives gorgeous harmonies and strong vocals from the cast.
There have been dozens of film to stage musical adaptations that weren't successful, but Sister Act proves to be one that works quite well. It's a joyous and joyful musical comedy with a huge heart and with an exceptional cast, perfect direction and choreography, and impressive creative aspects, Hale's production is a winner.
Sister Act runs through November 26, 2022, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit https://www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James