Taking a movie to the stage is a great deal different from the opposite. Many plays have been transformed into movies and of course the added glitz and the ability to do scenes over and over on film, often make them stronger. I for one, prefer watching a play “live” where the actors rely on their talents to take us from point A to point b with no cuts and splices. In the case of Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire’s current production, “Sister Act” ( a regional theater premiere) the Broadway hit that was based on the hysterical Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name, I found the stage play to offer more than the movie could. Yes, the movie featured some of the great “Motown” hits of the day and the “lowly” musical version only has songs written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glen Slater and a revised book written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (additional material by Douglas Carter Beane) they have not strayed far from the original story written by Joseph Howard for the original film version.
The story is about a “disco Diva” (played to perfection by the amazing Stephanie Umoh) whose life is changed when her would be boyfriend, Curtis (Byron Glenn Willis) commits a crime that she witnesses. When she seeks the sister act4aid of the police, she is placed in protective custody and put in the safe-keeping hands of the Mother Superior at the local convent (this role is being played by veteran Hollis Resnik, who plays this role as if it were her own- she did play the role in the National Tour back in 2012, so maybe it is her role!). There is a great deal of chemistry between these two women and the characters they bring to the stage. Watching them work together and hearing them sing makes the evening one that you might call “special”.
While Deloris, our Disco Diva is in the convent she makes friends with the sisters and the one postulant (Tiffany Tatreau, whose voice will make your heartbeat faster) and this ensemble of ladies who truly make the show as bright as it is. They are all solid talents with the ability to make you laugh and wow you with their voices and their dancing skills. As expected they all have names with Mary in them as this is so Catholic:Lillian Castillo, Mary Robin Roth, Marya Grandy, Christine Mild, Molly Kral, Mackenzie Curran, Sharriese Hamilton, Dara Cameron,Keely Vasquez and Annie Gunn- what a terrific group of ladies! The story is simple! The diva is in trouble! As it turns out, the church is about to be closed! Through the miracle of music, they find each other and all are saved. Praise the lord? well at least, praise the playwright.
The men in the show, who also make for strong characters are the always reliable Don Forston as Monsignor O’Hara, Jonathan Butler Duplessis as “Eddie” the cop, Mark Hood,Todd A. Horman, Jason Slattery, Aarton Holland, Eric A Lewis, Tommy Lucas, Paris Alexander Nesbitt and Eugene Peabody. A strong ensemble of male singers/actors/dancers. Directed by Don Stephenson, a newcomer (first-timer, in fact) to Marriott’s in-the-round-stage, and he came through with flying colors. Melissa Zaremba’s choreography works well with the musical numbers and the sight lines at the theater. Chicago’s well known Doug Peck is the musical director and as usual Patti Garwood conducts the Marriott Orchestra of 8 musicians to fill the venue with the spirited music that this play presents. We are in the 70’s and it feels good!
It is of great import that you do not come to the theater looking to compare what is being presented to the film. It is different! I, for one, am glad that it is so! The movie had music that was familiar to us and that was nice, but hearing original music that propels the story is far better for making the 2 1/2 hour production memorable. The closing song of the first act, a reprise of “Take Me To Heaven” in a full-scale production is worth the price of the ticket alone! But it is only one little piece of an amazing entertainment for the family. To be hones, the only reason this is not a MUST SEE five- star rating is that the story is kind of silly and been done before. The talent is strong and the technical aspects of the show are as always, brilliant. Thomas M. Ryan (set), Jesse Klug (lights), Nancy Missimi (costumes), Robert E. Gilmartin (sound) and Sally Weiss (properties)- GREAT WORK!