Outside life is grim, filled with smut and scandal to the brim. But here within these ArtsCentric walls, the cast of Sister Act has the remedy and the cure for all that is wrong with the world. Directed by Kevin S. McAllister with Musical Direction by Cedric D. Lyles and Choreography by Shalyce N. Hemby, this cast is raising their voices and making a joyful noise that will ring all through the Christmas season.
There’s much to be said for a director that understands his cast, knowing when to step in and give a firm guiding hand and knowing when to get out of the performers’ way to let them carry the show with an organic honesty that drives heartwarming humor, uplifting spirit, and overall joyousness that is bursting out of the seams of Sister Act. Director Kevin S. McAllister does exactly that when it comes to the core performers in the show, turning the nuns loose to exist in a fun and freeing fashion, particularly when it comes to little moments that happen as scenes are fading in and out of existence. McAllister also keeps the scenes moving, with the overall pacing of the show flying at a breakneck speed, but not so fast as to gloss over anything important.
Musical Director Cedric D. Lyles has the heavenly voices of the talented cast ringing like church bells all throughout the performance. Lyles’ masterwork comes from his ability to create heinous atonal sounds from the otherwise pitch-steady performers during the “early stages” of the nun-choir (before Deloris swoops in with a save), which makes the revelatory transformation of their sound that much more striking. Keeping in time with McAllister’s brisk show pacing, Lyles keeps that beat pumping and keeps the musical numbers in the show moving swiftly along, with energetic and enthusiastic support from the show’s choreographer, Shalyce N. Hemby. Well-versed when it comes to choreographing on The Motor House’s main stage, Hemby gets the nuns’ backsides in rotation when it comes to huge group numbers like “Take Me To Heaven (Reprise)” featured at the end of the first act. Hemby also puts her fun and funky flare of the 70’s on the show when it comes to the backup dancing that Joey, Pablo, and TJ do during Curtis’ big bad number, “When I Find My Baby.”
Aesthetically the show fits the era in which it’s set, with a side-serving of simplicity in the scenic department, compliments of Set Designer Jack Golden. Scenic Artist Andrea Crews adds a bit of color here and there, though the primary hues of adoration rain down from above thanks to Lighting Designer Lillie Kahkonen. Tying the show’s look together with 70’s flare— including a lot of silver and gold lamè— is Costume Designer Kitt Crescenzo. The sequin and sparkle habits which are featured on the nuns once they roll into their ‘groovy glory’ are too perfect for words, especially when it comes to how they catch all of the vibrant rays of Kahkonen’s lighting design.
Carrying cards of comedy, Joey (Drew Looney), Pablo (Christopher Rios), and TJ (David Singleton) are on the ball when it comes to being the three-Stooges style backup of the mean and nasty Curtis (Greg Watkins.) Although Watkins is smooth and sinful, particularly when caressing his way into “When I Find My Baby”, it’s difficult to take his vile villainy serious with this trio trotting along behind him. Singleton in particularly is a proper comic scream, between his enthusiasm and overeager bounciness. The trio really lays it on thick for “Lady in the Long Black Dress”, with each popping in and out of extreme falsetto and low Barry White-style bass sounds, making the number as laughable as it is loveable.
But the bad guys aren’t the only ones bringing the laughs. In addition to a robust sound that carries with sincerity, Sylvern J. D. Groomes Jr. presents an earnest rendition of Sweaty Eddie, especially when it comes to his big solo, “I Could Be That Guy.” Delicately handling the humor of this song, Groomes puts his heart and soul into the number and makes it an instant crowd pleaser. Though he doesn’t rely on the physical comedy of the character’s namesake (if he’s dabbing at himself with a hanky at all it’s very, very subtle), there is a congeniality that Groomes brings this performance, which enables the audience to empathize with and truly feel for Sweaty Eddie.
When it comes to the nuns, they’re in the habit of making the audience laugh and smile and feel that overall joyous sentiment that comes gift-wrapped inside a production of Sister Act. The ensemble is strong— both in voice and presence of mind— making their group numbers like “It’s Good to Be a Nun” and “Bless Our Show” really stand out in the best way possible. Keep an eye out on the wayward Sister Mary Theresa (Jane Petkofsky) who is indeed in her own little world and Sister Mary Lazarus (Lynne R. Sigler) who is an honest hoot in the role. Sigler, whose sarcastic and edgy bite give Sister Mary Lazarus an extra shine, is a scream when it comes to her solo-patter during “Raise Your Voice” and she takes the leading point, along with the vivaciously effervescent Sister Mary Patrick (Chelsea Paradiso), during “It’s Good to Be a Nun.”
Overflowing with the sunniest disposition and a plague of perpetual glee, Chelsea Paradiso takes the role of Sister Mary Patrick to soaring heights of hilarity, bouncing and bubbling about on the stage. There is something hysterically infectious about the way she all but explodes with energy, practically hopping through the hallowed halls of the convent and erupting into song. Playing the polar opposite sort of nun, Hailey Ibbetson creates a demure and shy sister out of Sister Mary Robert the postulant. Equally as spirited, though in a very different vein from Sister Mary Patrick, Ibbetson’s performance is stellar and full of a radiance that gleams once her character uncovers her driving passion. Delivering a blast of sound that is completely unexpected given in the character’s meek and meager disposition— even those familiar with the show will be utterly shocked at the power that Ibbetson gets behind her solo moments in song— this girl has got a full working mastery of the transformation of Sister Mary Robert. Ibbetson nails “The Life I Never Led” and its reprise with such gusto it’s honestly a show-stopping moment.
Deloris Van Cartier, played with spirit and soul by Shayla Lowe, is exactly the divided sort of character that is required for this story. Lowe, whose strong voice does not shy away from the lower vocal range of the character’s song, is a good fit for the bill, giving Deloris Van Cartier that pump of pizazz and panache when it comes to being the wannabe lounge singer. Transforming Deloris into a Nun-in-Hiding— Sister Mary Clarence— Lowe gives the audience laugh after laugh with a great bunch of sincerity behind it. Watch her facial expressions closely as they are second only to Mother Superior (Lynn Sharp Spears-EMC) when it comes to animated nonsense. Lowe gives her heart and soul to numbers like “Fabulous, Baby!” and “Sister Act” whilst leading the nuns in full voice and heart during “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me to Heaven (Reprise.)”
Mother Superior, Mother Show-Stealer, Mother-May-we please praise Lynn Sharp Spears-EMC for her perfect performance as head of the nuns? With sublime vocals, Spears-EMC lays into numbers like “Here Within These Walls” with honest passion. There is a rawness to the way she approaches “Haven’t Got a Prayer”, the comic list-ballad song that still manages to resonate with truth in Spears-EMC’s capable hands. There are pivotal moments throughout the performance which Spears-EMC hones out of nothingness; subtle instances that occur that could otherwise be plot-pushing points which Spears-EMC cultivates to be meaningful and recognizable scenes filled with honesty and purposeful sentiment. This is often achieved through her expressive facial features, like the near-tears when the full weight of Monsignor O’Hara’s (Ed Klein) words land on her ear about the church being sold or the shock at discovering Deloris in the confession booth instead of the Monsignor. All of this in addition to flawlessly tuned vocals and an emotional range that is as versatile as her singing one, Lynn Sharp Spears-EMC joins the rest of the ensemble in making this show one truly, perfect Sister Act.
Don’t wait to raise your voice and rejoice at the quality production that is ringing through the rafters of The Motor House this December season. ArtsCentric’s Sister Act is just what you need to feel the true spirit of the season, so don’t delay— get your tickets today!
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission
Sister Act plays through December 24, 2017 at ArtsCentric on the main stage of The Motor House— 120 W. North Avenue in the Station North Arts District of Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.