Sister Act, which opens tonight in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, under the direction of Nancy Gardner Rich, has had an unusual history for a West End and Broadway musical. It started out as a film designed for Bette Midler, but was eventually made starring Whoopi Goldberg. The 1992 film was not exactly a musical, in that it contained no original songs. Still, adapted songs and ensemble singing were prominent.
The story was then rewritten with a new book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, and with an added score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. After successful runs in 2006 in Pasadena, CA and 2007 in Atlanta, GA, Sister Act made the leap not to Broadway, but to London’s West End in 2009. It received decent reviews, but there were more changes coming. An updated book by Douglas Carter Beane was introduced before the show’s 2011 Broadway debut; and this time, the reviews were even more positive.
Sister Act is the story of a somewhat sinful woman who witnesses a crime and finds herself in danger by the hand of her gangster boyfriend. A friend on the police force hides her in a convent until she can testify at trial. Much of the story deals with her fish-out-of-water relationship with the nuns and, particularly, the staid and strict Mother Superior. There is plenty of sharing and learning and joyous singing along the way.
The current version of the show is a great example of what works in musical theater. The snappy dialogue is funny, and it has a good flow of a story. The songs, while not necessarily memorable tunes, have sharp lyrics that enhance the action. Additionally, there are several ensemble numbers that are delightfully staged and delivered. If you are looking for a show to give someone — especially young people — a taste of the musical-theater experience, you couldn’t do much better than RLT‘s rendition of Sister Act.
The lead roles are Deloris Van Cartier, played by Tyanna West, and the Mother Superior, played by Alison Lawrence. It is critical to have serious actor/singers in these roles. West and Lawrence do not disappoint, and the rest of the cast is solid.
I felt that the costuming was outstanding and comically reminiscent of Philadelphia in the 1970s. However, there were a few minor negatives about the performance. None were significant enough to damage the experience. I saw the last preview show, which is somewhat of a shakedown cruise. The stage work was a bit sloppy, and I was able to see stagehands behind and around scenery and curtains. I expect that most of this will be corrected.
The sets generally worked, except for the opening number. The curtain opens to a singing group in front of a backdrop of Mylar strips, which caused difficulty in seeing the performers, because the bright spotlights reflected into the audience’s eyes, at least where I was in the center, about five rows back. There were also times where the background music obscured some of the actors, most often when the gangster’s henchmen were speaking. My last quibble was a single member of the Ensemble, whose extreme preening was a distraction. I’ll leave it to you to see if you can spot that Ensemble member.
Please take the whole family to see this delightful show.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 15th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sister-act/Event?oid=16989642; and July 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article215505405.html.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents SISTER ACT at 8 p.m. Aug. 17 and 18, 3 p.m. Aug. 19, 8 p.m. Aug. 23-25, 3 p.m. Aug. 26, 8 p.m. Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 3 p.m. Sept. 2, 8 p.m. Sept. 6-8, and 3 p.m. Sept. 9 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $28 ($24 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S0V00000zs1nWUAQ.
SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/sister-act/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/261224264463208/.
RLT‘S 2018-19 SEASON: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows-and-events/memberships/.
PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26th and Sept. 9th, performances.
Sister Act (1992 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/19569/Sister-Act/ (Turner Classic Movies page), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105417/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Act (Wikipedia).
Sister Act (2006 Pasadena Playhouse, 2007 Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, 2009 West End, and 2011 Broadway musical): https://www.mtishows.com/sister-act (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/sister-act-488902 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Act_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://www.chanhassendt.com/ArticleMedia/Files/PDFs/Group%20Sales/Sister%20Act/SisterAct_ShowGuide_2015.pdf (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen, MN).
Alan Menken (music): http://www.alanmenken.com/ (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0579678/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (Wikipedia).
Glenn Slater (lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glenn-slater-80644 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1637698/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Slater (Wikipedia).
Cheri Steinkellner (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/cheri-steinkellner-488904 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0251482/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_and_Cheri_Steinkellner (Wikipedia).
Bill Steinkellner (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/bill-steinkellner-488105 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0826137/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_and_Cheri_Steinkellner (Wikipedia).
Douglas Carter Beane (additional text): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/douglas-carter-beane-407150 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0063819/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Carter_Beane (Wikipedia).
Nancy Gardner Rich (Raleigh, NC director and co-founder of Actors Comedy Lab): https://www.facebook.com/nancy.g.rich.3 (Facebook page) and https://twitter.com/bravemonkeygirl (Twitter page).
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.