Nuns become disco divas in NSMT’s ‘Sister Act’
BEVERLY – You may have seen “Sister Act” but you haven’t seen this “Sister Act” before.
The North Shore Music Theatre’s production of the musical is a high-octane, funny, fast-moving delight, with dazzling production numbers and a standout performance by Jeannette Bayardelle.
The book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, based on the 1992 movie that starred Whoopi Gioldberg, tells the story of Bayardelle’s Deloris Van Cartier (“Like the jewelry”), a Philadelphia singer and dancer impatient to get her career in gear.
She feels she is being held back by her boyfriend, gangster and nightclub owner Curtis Jackson (Jonathan Kirkland), a man with questionable connections.
When Deloris walks in after Curtis has just conducted a “questioning” of an associate on Christmas Eve that turns deadly, she realizes she’s an eyewitness to a murder.
She seeks help at the nearby police station, where she tells her story to Eddie Souther a desk cop and former schoolmate nicknamed “Sweaty Eddie,” then a nerd who always had the hots for her. It’s a problematic character that Kyle Robert Carter does the very best he can with.
Eddie has an idea. Stash Deloris in the last place anyone would look for her – a convent.
Luckily for both Eddie and Deloris, there’s a local parish desperate for money and threatening to close its doors.
The church agrees to shelter Deloris for the police but she quickly runs afoul of the convent’s many rules. That sets up the rarest of birds: A Mother Superior who is a “villain,” so to speak. Ellen Harvey plays the by-the-book nun who has the thankless job of trying to reign in Sister Mary Clarence (Deloris’s new moniker), part of a running joke as each nun has the name “Sister Mary Fillintheblank.”
There’s many ways to praise God, and Deloris seems to have found all of the ones no one ever thought of before when she is assigned – as a punishment – to work with the woebegone parish choir. The time being the late 1970’s, the disco influence wins out: Nuns’ habits festooned with sequins, killer dance moves, a disco ball , and pews filled with donating church-goers.
Unfortunately, the resultant publicity blows Deloris’ cover, and threatens both her and the others sisters.
Where “Sister Act” really benefits is from the snazzy score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater that takes full advantage of every situation, including writing comic tunes for Curtis and his gang members
Then there’s the the very funny and ironic “It’s Good to be a Nun” which then goes on to lists the dozens of reasons it’s not always that much fun, if not ultimately rewarding.
The show really comes alive, though, when it comes time for the sisters to strut their stuff.
“Take Me to Heaven” is a roof-raiser of a production number, as is the second-act opener “Sunday Morning Fever.” “Spread the Love Around” and “Raise Your Voice”give the sequined sisters even more chances to shine.
There’s some fine support for Bayardelle and Harvey from others. Lael Van Keuren shines as the postulant Sister Mary Robert, who gets a chance to sing about what she left behind in “The Life I Never Led.”
Jennie Boone is the feisty, perky Sister Mary Patrick and Tina Johnson and Tara Tagliaferro are a hoot as Sister Mary Lazarus and Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (pun very much intended).
Local favorite Ellen Pederson rarely gives a bad performance and makes Sister Marie Theresa a dancing, singing delight.
Robert Pruett’s Monsignor O”Hara signs on quickly to the new-look choir before getting into the spirit and morphing into a clerically-garbed Barry White.
One quibble when it comes to the costuming end. There has to be a better Afro wig available than the one currently being sported by Jonathan Kirkland as Curtis Jackson
Kudos to the high-octane, high-energy direction and choreography by NSMT Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill. The show starts a little slow, but once the sisters start dancin,’ all bets are off.
In fact, the entire cast appears to be having a great time kicking up their heels. It’s funny how it works. When the actors on stage are having a great time, the audience can’t help but having one, too.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Sister Act.” Based on the Touchstone Pictures motion picture written by Joseph Howard. Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner. Directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill. Other credits: Andrew Bryan, Musical Director); Nate Bertone (Scenic Design); Jeff Hendry (Original Costume Design); Paula Peasley-Ninestein, (Costume Coordinator/Resident Costume Designer); Richard Latta (Lighting Design); Leon Rothenberg (Sound Design); Gerard Kelly(Wig and Hair Design).