Hallelujah for Sister Act at Cockpit In Court! CCBC Essex presents a family musical with sincerely praise-worthy voices and a lot of spirit in the F. Scott Black Mainstage Theatre. The stage musical of Sister Act is based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie of the same name, but while audiences loved hearing familiar Motown tunes used innovatively in the context of a cloister, the stage production got Alan Menken— you remember Alan Menken? The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, Hercules?— to compose a new score and songs. The resulting product has about the same number of twists as an empty ice rink. Alan Menken’s music is cheerful and cute, but not particularly edgy or innovative. The show is safe, predictable fun for everyone from Grandma to wee innocent little Jimmy, if they’re both okay with stage gunfire and mob bosses.
The stage show Sister Act is based on the Touchstone Pictures Motion Picture “Sister Act” written by “Joseph Howard,” a pseudonym. Paul Rudnick, who wrote the original screenplay and was lead writer throughout, eventually didn’t want his name on it after it had been “doctored” by a variety of additional writers, including Carrie Fisher, Nancy Meyers, and Robert Harling. Yes, THAT Carrie Fisher. Even more writers created the stage show: Cheri Steinkellner & Bill Steinkellner, with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane, not to mention the lyrics of Glenn Slater. And still the show feels skimpy. No matter; people don’t see Sister Act because of the script. They’re in it for the singing and choreography and at this production Director/Choreographer Tom Wyatt and musical director Nathan Scavilla deliver.
This is my first visit to the Main Stage at Essex, and I find production values somewhat uneven. Costuming and choreography are solid and charming, set changes happen speedily and smoothly, but someone, or multiple someones, have a microphone issue. It’s rather distracting, though I am assured by one of the stage techs that this is a unique happening, and that sound quality has been just fine for the prior performances. Backdrop flats, painted with exquisite attention to detail, fly in and out silently. All set changes happen swiftly and seamlessly. The lighting is unobtrusive and effective. The music direction is strong, the cast is lively, everything flows as it should, though the setup in Act I has pacing issues.
The costuming is bright and appropriate, particularly the three goons, who each look goon-like, but differently. The wigs for this production deserve special recognition, as the 1970’s hairstyles are lovingly represented on all characters who aren’t wearing wimples. Music director Nathan Scavilla, who also conducts and plays keyboard, capably integrates the live orchestra with the cast, creating a nice depth to the vocal numbers in this show. Despite the formulaic sequence of songs, I’m engaged. There are some powerhouse voices in this cast, well worth listening to for a couple of hours.
Rikki Howie Lacewell in the role of the main character Deloris is full of sass and spunk, and has the lungs to pull off the vocal numbers excellently. Her stage presence is strong and vibrant, and she is fun to watch. Playing gangster boyfriend Curtis is Jake Stuart, and he brings a calm smoothness to the role. His number “When I Find My Baby” with his three goons— Jeff Burch, Dorian Smith and Tyrell Stanley as Joey, Pablo and TJ, respectively— is well choreographed and amusing. Tyrell Stanley has a wonderful voice and great comic presence, and I anticipate seeing him in lead roles in the future. Dorian Smith as Pablo speaks dreadful Spanish, but his hairdo is amazing and he rocks it. Troy Haines Hopper is darling as Officer Eddie, and really shines in his solo “I Could Be That Guy.” Jane C. Boyle, whose comic skills and timing are always a hit, is a solid Mother Superior, and her rich, emotive voice carries “Here Within These Walls” and “I Haven’t Got A Prayer” with authority. The discovered treasure in the cast is Sherry Benedek as Sister Mary Robert, whose voice soars magnificently to the highest spires of the cloister. She’s just marvelous.
Intermission is about 20 minutes, maybe a bit more, which is long enough to get a glass of wine, or use the bathroom. Both is probably tricky, since you must finish drinking your wine in the lobby. The show runs just under 3 hours, including intermission. Act II has spiffier pacing, and plenty of action. “Lady In The Long Black Dress,” another number featuring the three goons, is a treat. By the show’s finale, the audience is fully invested and ready to dance along with the cast. If you’re looking for a feel-good, happy-ever-after jubilation of a show for the whole family, oh brother, you’ll like Sister Act.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission
Sister Act plays through August 6, 2017 at Cockpit in Court in the F. Scott Black Theatre of The Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex Campus— 7201 Rossville Boulevard, Essex MD. For tickets call the box office at (443) 840-2787 or purchase them online.