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Unlike the 1992 Film, “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy” Is Set in Philadelphia in the 1970s

Ta'Rea Campbell (center) stars as fugitive nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier, a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence, in "Sister Act" at DPAC (photo by Joan Marcus)

Ta’Rea Campbell (center) stars as fugitive nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier, a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence, in “Sister Act” at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Durham Performing Arts Center will welcome the first U.S. national tour of Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy, to its 2,700-seat, state-of-the-art theater in the American Tobacco District for eight performances, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14th, and running through 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 19th. The 2011 Broadway musical is based on the 1992 Touchstone Pictures film starring Whoopi Goldberg as a nightclub singer on the lam from the mob after she witnesses a murder and is forced to take refuge in a convent.

“The musical is different from the movie in that it takes place in Philadelphia in the 1970s,” notes the tour’s music director and conductor, 42-year-old Brent-Alan Huffman, a Blairsville, PA native. He adds, “The movie took place in Reno, NV, in 1992. The musical has a fresh new score by [composer]. It’s all new songs that have a 1970s pastiche feel to them.”

Earlier in the tour, Huffman told the Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette: “This musical definitely has a disco edge to it. When the nuns are singing, it’s usually the disco style that Deloris has taught them. When Curtis and his thugs are singing, you are going to hear an R&B sound. When Mother Superior sings, the orchestration leans a little bit toward Sondheim, and then there are just some Alan Menken traditional showstopping numbers….”

In a recent interview with Triangle Review, Huffman added, “The characters and story are all the same. People will recognize it very well…. Sister Act is the story of a woman who is being hidden by the police in a convent, because she has witnessed a murder. She teaches the nuns to sing; and they, in turn, teach her a few life lessons as well.”

The tour cast includes Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris Van Cartier a.k.a. Sister Mary Clarence; Kingsley Leggs as Van Cartier’s gangster boyfriend Curtis; Charles Barksdale, Todd A. Horman, and Ernie Pruneda as Jackson’s henchmen T.J., Joey, and Pablo; E. Clayton Cornelious as police Lt. Eddie Souther; Hollis Resnik as the no-nonsense Mother Superior of the convent where Lt. Souther hides Deloris out after she witnesses a murder; and Florrie Bagel as ultra perky Sister Mary Patrick. The cast also includes Diane J. Findlay as Sister Mary Lazarus; Richard Pruitt as Monsignor O’Hara; Lael Van Keuren as Sister Mary Robert; Melvin Abston as a Cop; Gisela Adisa as Michelle; Brian Cali as Joey Finnochio; Karen Elliott as Sister Mary Theresa; Trisha Jeffrey as Tina; Michelle Rombola as a Waitress. Jacqui Graziano and Erin Wilson alternate as Mary Martin-of-Tours.

The ensemble includes Mary Jo McConnell, Dawn Rother, Angie Marie Smith, Tricia Tanguy, Kelly E. Waters, and Dashaun Young; and swings include Danny George and Erin Henry.

Originally produced in 2006 by California’s Pasadena Playhouse, in 2007 the Alliance Theatre of Atlanta, GA, and in 2009 in London’s West End — and developed in association with Peter Schneider and Michael RenoSister Act made its Broadway debut on April 20, 2011 at the Broadway Theatre, where it played for 561 performances before closing on Aug. 26, 2012. Originally directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, the show features music by 2012 Tony Award® winner and eight-time Academy Award® winner Alan Menken (Newsies), lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner — with additional text by Douglas Carter Beane — based on the screenplay by Joseph Howard. Sister Act was nominated for five 2011 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score Written for the Theatre, and Best Book of a Musical.

The tour’s producers include by Whoopi Goldberg, Stage Entertainment, Joop Van Den Ende, Bill Taylor, and Troika Entertainment. Associate director Steven Beckler and associate choreographer Janet Rothermel recreate the vivacious musical staging of Broadway and West End director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Anthony Van Laast. The rest of the creative team includes set designer Klara Zieglerova, lighting designer Natasha Katz, costume designer Lez Brotherston, wig and hair designer David Brian Brown, sound designer Ken Travis, production stage manager Daniel S. Rosokoff, and stage manager Monica Dickhens. Michael Kosarin serves as music supervisor/vocal and incidental music arranger, and Brent-Alan Huffman is the show’s music director and conductor.

Born on June 24, 1970 in Blairsville, PA, Brent-Alan Huffman was graduated from Blairsville Senior High School in 1988, and earned a degree in piano performance in 1992 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. “I started off as a voice major, and switched over to piano,” he explains.

After college graduation, Huffman worked in a theme park in San Antonio, TX, for a year, and then worked in Omaha, NB, for a year and a half, before moving to New York City. In late 1994, he made his Broadway debut, playing keyboards in the 1994 revival of Grease.

Most recently, Brent-Alan Huffman was music director/associate conductor of Sister Act on Broadway from January 2011 to February 2012, music director/conductor of Leap of Faith on Broadway from January to May 2012, and music director/conductor of the first U.S. national tour of Sister Act.

Huffman says that he followed the usual path from keyboard player to associate conductor to conductor to musical director. “Like any corporate job,” he says, “you start from the bottom and work your way up.”

He notes, “I started with Sister Act pre-Broadway. We started this show about seven years ago in Pasadena, CA; and then it went to Atlanta, GA. It went to London before it came to Broadway.”

As the show’s music director, he says, “I help choose cast members. I teach the music to the cast during rehearsals, I conduct the show during performances and rehearsals of the cast and orchestra to keep them up to speed…. On the tour, we have 12 musicians; and the full orchestra travels with the show.”

Brent-Alan Huffman says, “The [tour’s] set is a little different [from the Broadway set], so we can pack it into tractor trailers and move it around. But the show is the same. We have a few members of the Broadway company, but most of the cast is new….

“This musical is completely joyful,” claims Huffman. “By the end of the show, you are so lifted up. I can go to the show in any kind of a mood; and by the end of the show, I’ll be lifted up. It’s a joyful, positive piece.”

He adds, “Sister Act is definitely a family-friendly piece. In fact, I have family members coming to see it.

“The audience should stay until the very, very end,” says Brent-Alan Huffman. “There’s a little extra something at the end.

SECOND OPINION: May 10th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/x1592156210/-Sister-Act-brings-disco-to-a-convent (Note: You must register to read this article).

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents SISTER ACT at 7:30 p.m. May 14-16, 8 p.m. May 17, 2 and 8 p.m. May 18, and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. May 19 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

TICKETS: $42.50-$111.00 (including fees), except $17.50 Student Rush Tickets (plus a service fee if purchased online), located on Row P of the Balcony.

BOX OFFICE:

DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1555394.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.

SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/sister-act.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdDsU5CsP8g.

CONTEST (win two opening-night tickets and a $20 gift card for Bull City Burger and Brewery): http://www.dpacnc.com/contests/detail/raise-your-voice-with-sister-act.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide.

NOTE 1: The Durham Performing Arts Center will sell Student Rush Tickets, located on Row P of the Balcony, for just $17.50 (plus a service fee if purchased online). For details, click http://www.dpacnc.com/events/special_offers.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 2 p.m. Saturday, May 18th, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Sister Act (1992 film): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Act (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105417/ (Internet Movie Database).

Sister Act (2006 musical): http://www.sisteractthemusical.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Act_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia), and http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=488902 (Internet Broadway Database).

North American Tour: http://sisteractbroadway.com/ (official website).

Tour Cast: http://sisteractbroadway.com/cast.html (official web page).

Tour Creative Team: http://sisteractbroadway.com/creative.html (official web page).

Brent-Alan Huffman (music director/conductor) https://www.facebook.com/brentalan.huffman/ (his Facebook page) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=112684 (Internet Broadway Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature