Nancy Sasso Janis / Critic Gloriously Broadway 'Sister Act The Musical' makes a stop at Waterbury's Palace Theater this weekend and I was blessed to attend the opening night performance. The musical is based on the Touchstone Pictures motion picture 'Sister Act' written by Joseph Howard that starred Whoopi Goldberg and is one of my favorites. Once I gave up expecting the musical to be an exact copy of the film, I was able to enjoy the musical version for what it was, "a heavenly good time."
The opening night performance shattered the illusion that touring companies can't possibly be as stellar as the original cast on Broadway. This one had all the glitz and combined talent of what I suspect was evident in NYC. Moreover, Kerissa Arrington is simply stellar in the role of Deloris, the lounge singer who hides out in a convent for her own safety. This young woman, who makes her National Tour debut in the show, has an outstanding singing voice and the stage presence to raise this production to a heavenly level. WATR's Tom Chute was also in the audience, and he concurred by calling her performance even better than the one he had seen on Broadway. She truly is "Fabulous, Baby!"
Sister Act is at it's very best when the nuns are on the stage and the ladies on the ensemble are two notch nuns. Their choreography by Anthony Van Laast is inspired and I could listen to them sing in Latin or disco for many other numbers. Also fabulous was Emily Kay Shrader as the young postulate Sr. Mary Robert, who possessed the necessary pipes to reach her high notes. Ms. Shrader lists Maggie in a Chorus Line at Connecticut Repertory as one of her favorite roles. Maggie Clennon Reberg is also superior as the not so severe Mother Superior, the role played by Maggie Smith in the film. The bubbly Sr. Mary Patrick is well played by Sarah Michelle Cuc, Nancy Evans plays choir director Sr. Mary Lazarus and Tara Tagliaferro is the dippy Sr. Mary Martin-of-Tours.
There are some guys that round out the cast. Kolby Kindle, who was in the ensemble of Ragtime at the Westchester Broadway Theater, is the hard to like Curtis Jackson and Lamont O'Neal plays Eddie Souther, the lawman trying to protect the sometimes ungrateful Deloris. Gordon Gray, a Yale School of Drama grad who was the in the national tour of Elf, plays the nimble Monsignor O'Hara.
The music by Alan Menken with lyrics Glenn Slater is completely original (at least I didn't recognize the Latin pieces as sacred music) and therefore different from the film. Think disco with a bit of gospel. I really liked "Raise Your Voice" and Mary Robert's "The Life I Never Led." The small orchestra in the pit that included five musicians played orchestrations by Doug Besterman and I think it was conductor/keyboard Christopher Babbage who got a cameo of sorts. Jerry Zaks is the director of the tour. The book is written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane. Whoopi Goldberg is a producer of the tour and has called the show "fun." The amazing costumes by Lez Brotherston feature more sequins than most shows I have seen, let alone in a convent and the glitzy set by Klara Zieglerova was most impressive and was beautifully lit by Natasha Katz.
The opening night audience loved the performance as much as my teenaged companion and I did. There is a matinée today at 2:00pm and another at 8:00pm and tickets are available at the Palace Theater box office. "Raise Your Voice" and go see it.