BY JEFF LEVENE
Just in time for Lent, Centre Stage’s “Sister Act” is a glorious and impossibly fun whirlwind of disco music, Studio 54 lighting, and, of course, devout Catholicism. And with a visually stunning slew of funky dance moves and stellar vocals, this unlikely combination of religion and pop culture will leave audiences offering up praises of Hallelujah while shaking their groove things.
Based on the 1992 hit smash starring Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” follows Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring singer and woman of the world, whose career takes a drastic turn when she’s forced to go into witness protection away from her glitzy, boozy and sleazy Philadelphia club scene, to the antithesis of her dream: a convent. Bored to death at the lack of men, parties and alcohol, Deloris (as Sister Mary Clarence) finds her own calling to save a pathetic cringe-inducing choir comprised of her well-intending atonal sisters.
For those of you who haven’t lived your life in a convent, you’ll probably know it’s next to impossible to disassociate “Sister Act” from its titular star Whoopi Goldberg, and there are certainly times where the musical’s book doesn’t quite measure up to its silver screen counterpart, especially regarding character development and pacing. Even so, Glenda ManWaring’s direction capitalizes on what intimate moments the script provides, creating fully-realized characters, who all shine on Will Luther’s efficient set design, and dazzle under the disco balls and stained glass lighting design of Taylor Jensen.
The show’s star, Simone Mack-Orr, offers a Deloris who starts as a delightfully bratty and cocksure rising diva, only to develop into the confident and strong woman we see at the end of the show. In “Fabulous Baby” Mack-Orr sizzles with that self-assured soulful Gloria Gaynor fierceness, while later in “Sister Act” she brings an intimate and determined vulnerability more akin to a Whitney Houston slow jam.
As her counterpart, Karen Covington-Yow is devout, rigid, and pin-pointedly frazzled as the traditional Mother Superior. Balancing her love of her faith with her frustrations and fears of a sinful world, Covington-Yow shows her vocal prowess in “I Haven’t Got a Prayer”, as she glides effortlessly between punctuated vibrato and thoughtful soft asides.
Morgan Voke-Thomason’s at first meek Sister Mary Robert is perfectly built to a definitive decision to rediscover her own sovereignty in “The Life I Never Led”, and her vocals explode into a gorgeous belting finale.
Taylor Marlatt is delightful as the gleeful and plucky Sister Mary Patrick, offering a variety of hilarious arrhythmic shimmies and straight from the shower vocal maneuvers, all with an emblazoned grin on her face that lovingly screams “Jesus Loves You”. And these quirks and comedic skills pay off for even bigger laughs when Marlatt finally shows off her true brilliant pipes.
Arleen Floyd’s Sister Mary Lazarus is the embodiment of gruff and tough nuns, and turns Catholic guilt to street cred when she raps in “Sunday Morning Fever.”
Brian Reeder is perfectly cast as Deloris’ hip and brutal boyfriend, Curtis. He brings a smooth and scary demeanor in “When I Find My Baby,” that will leave the audience unsure whether to swoon or take off running.
His three cronies, played by Daniel Marlatt, Kristofer Parker, and Ray Jones, offer belly laughs as gangsters turned into hyper-sexed wannabes of Gladys Knight’s Pips in “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”
All of the fellow nuns’ transformations from tone deaf hacks into seasoned singers are both testament to the comical talent of this cast, as well as a reminder of the pinpoint precision of music director Leroy Kennedy. Likewise their ability to bring unique character traits to each of their dances and small moments offers depth and hilarity everywhere on stage.
And having possibly saved the best for last, is Andre Webb as the sweet and slightly nerdy cop, Sweaty Eddie. But while Webb perfectly captures Eddie as that dopey nice guy we’re all rooting for, Webb’s voice is as cool as the other side of the pillow, soaring effortlessly in the wishful and sultry “I Could Be That Guy.”
Centre Stage’s “Sister Act” combines terrific character direction, with a vocally and comedically-brilliant cast, that brings salvation to all theatre goers who need a boost of joy and fun. Needless to say, “Sister Act” will have audiences pouring in, en “mass.”
“Sister Act: The Musical” continues through April 8, Thurs. – Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at Centre Stage, 501 River Street in Greenville. Call the box office at (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org. Tickets for Sister Act are $35, $30, and $20. Student rush tickets are available for $15 with school ID (based on availability), one ticket per ID.
IN THE GALLERY AT CENTRE STAGE: The art of Marcy Yerkes will be on display March 3 – May 1, 2017, Tuesday through Friday from 2-6 p.m. The exhibit is presented in cooperation with the Metropolitan Arts Council. This partnership is sponsored by South State Bank. Admission is free.