Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This musical began life in 2006 at Pasadena Playhouse in California followed by an engagement at Alliance Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. It was generally well received in those theaters, so a West End production followed, with a revised version for Broadway in 2011. Sister Act was only a modest hit in London and in New York, where it eked out a run of a little over a year.
If authors want to musicalize a very successful movie, it would be wise to do so with a fabulous score to enhance the original (Hairspray anyone?). I am normally a fan of Alan Menken and have appreciated his work in Little Shop of Horrors, the scores for Disney animated features which are full of memorable songs, even the flop Weird Romance; and I think the score for Leap of Faith was underappreciated because it was perhaps attached to a story that audiences didn't warm to. Unfortunately, I don't think Sister Act finds Menken at his best. None of the songs for Deloris or the chorus of nuns really take flight. On the other hand, Glen Slater's lyrics are full of really nice rhyme patterns all the way through. Consider these, from Sister Mary Robert's "The Life I Never Led":
To stand up and say
The book gets the story told and sticks pretty close to the original film. Sister Act might have fared a whole lot better in the 1940s or 1950s when musicals were being written for stars. In that era the authors would have had a particular performer in mind for the star role of Deloris Van Cartier and would have tailored songs for that star, giving the whole affair much more punch than it seems to have here.
Venice Theatre and director Brad Wages give Sister Act their all. Syreeta S. Banks as Deloris commands the stage the way she needs to. Her Deloris has sass and heartand a good Broadway belt. Diana Vytell provides the yin to her yang as Mother Superior and commands a lush opera quality mezzo. Debbi White as Sister Mary Patrick calls to mind the wonderful performance of Kathy Najimi in the movie. Sarah Cassidy has been busy on area stages this season (Peggy Sawyer in 42nd St, Squeaky Fromme in Assassins); here she adds another wonderful character to her gallery, Sister Mary Robert. Kim Kollar played Sister Mary Lazarus on the night I attended, a role she shares with Dawn Carpenter.
Joseph Giglia is having an interesting season, doing a great job playing thankless roles (Herbie in Gypsy), here as Monsignor O'Hara. Please, I would love to see him in a role commensurate with his talents. The bad guys are Edwin Watson as Deloris' ex boyfriend Curtis, and Isaiah Jones, Rib Robertson and Willie Marte as TJ, Joey, and Pablo. The last three almost steal the show with one of the funniest songs in the piece, "Lady in the Long Black Dress." Nethaneel Williams as Eddie, the cop who gets Deloris in the end, is another asset in this talented cast. I have never seen so much diversity on a community theater stage, and that didn't happen by accident. They even have a staff position of Director of Diversity, Mr. Kristofer Geddie.
It is hard to judge the quality of Brad Wages' production since I am less than enthralled with the show itself. Let it be said that the audience around me seemed to be enjoying what they saw a great deal more than I did. I think Mr. Wages gets the best out of his cast, but for me it is somewhat for naught. Music director Rick Bogner does his usual fine job and his musicians play so well for him, that until I was writing this review I thought the cast had been singing to tracks. Tim Wisgerhof provides one of the finest scenic designs I've ever seen on a community theater stage. Two of the important settings, the outside of the monastery and the inside of the church, are spectacular and the rest of the settings all work harmoniously. Costumes by Jonathan Hall are beautiful (I am left wondering how much they are based on the Broadway production). Lighting designer David Castaneda and sound designers Dorian Boyd and Jaclyn Ledoux contribute their enormous talents to the mix.
Sister Act at Venice Theatre is a very fine production, I wish the musical that is being produced were better.
Venice Theater presents Sister Act through February 5, 2017, 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice, FL. Box Office (941) 488-1115 or www.venicestage.com.
Musicians: Rick Bogner: Conductor/Keyboard
Director/Choreographer: Brad Wages