Like many musicals these days, Sister Act got its start as a film. Debuting in 1992 and starring the indomitable Whoopi Goldberg, the film was a smash hit. Audiences loved its star, its humor, and the familiar-but-different fish-out-of-water quality. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the musical version, onstage now at North Carolina Theatre under the direction and choreographic genius of Robert Hartwell, is every bit as charming . . . if not more so.
The story starts by introducing hard-living Deloris Van Cartier (Aisha Jackson). Early on, she’s established as a character the audience wants to root for. Jackson portrays her as spunky, surprisingly sweet, and someone who, in spite of her challenges in life, believes in herself. This quality, paired with Jackson's endearing delivery, draws viewers in instantly. From there, the simple story is quickly and clearly set thanks to effective dialogue.
Viewers learn that Deloris has a history with nuns and Catholic school, much to her chagrin, and that she has a penchant for bad men. They also watch as she witnesses her scummy boyfriend, Curtis (Joel Ashur) murder an informant. She then gets whisked away by lovable cop Eddie (Nick Rashad Burroughs) to a strict-but-struggling convent that reluctantly agrees to take her in. Yes, it’s a silly plot, but it’s so much fun and done so well that viewers believe (and enjoy) every moment.
As the plot progresses, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that NCT has spared no expense in bringing this story to life. Jeff Hendry’s costumes, aside from the standard nun attire, feature fun pops of color to match the visual appeal of Adam Koch’s incredible set. New scenes appear like magic as one backdrop seamlessly fades into the next, and Hartwell’s punchy, eye-catching choreography pervades every musical number.
To top it all off, the performances are absolutely incredible. While Jackson more than earns her leading role with her powerful pipes and enduring charm, her supporting cast is just as impressive. In fact, numbers like “It’s Good to Be a Nun” are practically engineered to give everyone a chance to shine, and this talented cast certainly capitalizes on the opportunity. Another standout number is the surprisingly dark “When I Find My Baby.” The song’s soothing, crooning tones and Hartwell’s boyband choreo belie the threatening lyrics, and Ashur performs it completely straight, which only serves to make it more darkly humorous.
Another stellar performance comes from LaVon Fisher-Wilson, who portrays the prickly-but-kindhearted Mother Superior. Her deep voice and surly facial expressions help to create a memorable, winning character. Similarly, local talent Casey Wortham steals every scene in her role as Sister Mary Robert, a young postulant who learns a great deal from Deloris. Her rendition of “The Life I Never Led” is enchanting from start to finish. Then, of course, there’s Ray Dooley as Monsignor O’Hara. With his signature shrugs and put-upon comedic style, he arguably garnered the majority of the laughs on opening night.
Sister Act may feature a fluffy, feel-good story, but, honestly, couldn’t everyone use a little bit more of that right now? Plus, it’s packed with talent and features some nice feminist undertones that raise it from silly to thoughtful. All in all, it’s a great way to spend an October evening and to check out the vast expanse of talent our state has to offer.
Tickets can be purchased here.
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