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'Sister Act' is Heavenly Fun @ Marriott

I thought the premise of funny, singing and dancing nuns would feel tired and passé, but instead I have to confess that Sister Act at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire is pure, heavenly fun. The musical, inspired by the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, is currently receiving its regional premier in Lincolnshire. Most theatre-goers will be familiar with the movie plot about night club singer Deloris Van Cartier who is hiding out at a convent for safety after witnessing a murder and going to the police with what she knows. Reset in the disco era of the late 1970’s, it becomes a classic fish out of water story as Deloris clashes with the ridged and righteous Mother Superior and tries to keep her cover and fit in with the other nuns. In doing so she unexpectedly changes the lives and fate of those around her and also her own.

Stephanie Umoh, making her Marriott Theatre debut, plays Deloris Van Cartier. I’m not sure if it was opening night nerves, but it took Umoh a few scenes before she seemed to fully commit to her performance. Her vocals and characterization started off a bit shaky, however she settled into the role nicely when Deloris arrived at the convent. Even though her singing and acting were strong and convincing from that point forward, she still lacked a bit of the commanding star power to truly be the center of the story.

Unfortunately some of the same vocal issues that plagued Ms. Umoh early in the show were also an issue for veteran actress Hollis Resnik, repeating her role of Mother Superior from the national tour. It appeared as if certain parts of some of the songs strained Resnik’s upper vocal range. Despite some minor vocal issues Resnik turned in her usual spot on performance. Her comic timing, always brilliant, has even been further enhanced by playing the role for almost two years on the road. Resnik and Umoh play well off each other as their characters butt heads and grow to love and understand each other.

The terrific ensemble of singing and dancing nuns were pure comedy gold. The perfectly delivered one-liners were some of the shows funniest moments. Lillian Castillo’s infectious performance playing Mary Patrick, is perfection; Mary Robin Roth as Mary Lazarus was sheer genius; and Marya Grandy inhabiting the role of Mary Martin-of-tours had me laughing out loud in her all too few comic moments.

Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Eddie Souther) is a joy to watch and listen to, playing Deloris’s childhood friend and eventual suitor. His performance is full of heart and warmth and an instant likeability that makes him an audience favorite who they are rooting for the entire time, which is exactly how it should be. Mark Hood brings a nice sense of humor and strong vocals to TJ. and Byron Glenn Willis as Curtis Jackson makes a terrific comic foil.

Alan Menken (Composer) and Glenn Slater’s (Lyrics) score is full of foot tapping numbers and funny lyrics, although none are particular stand-outs outside of the show and Cheri & Bill-Steinkellner (Book) aided by Douglas Carter-Beane’s Additional Book Material, keeps the story moving along nicely. Don Stephenson, making his Marriott Theatre directorial debut, may need a little more time to figure out the best way to use this unique in the round theatre. The show overall just didn’t seem to quite use the space as well as usual. Melissa Zaremba’s choreography was both jubilant and interesting throughout. Thomas M. Ryan’s Scenic Design, Nancy Missimi’s Costume Design, and Jesse Klug’s Lighting Design all added nicely to the look and feel of the proceedings. There were a few issues at the top of Act I with balance between the vocals and music from Robert E. Gilmartin’s Sound Design, but improved as the evening progressed, however Musical Supervisor/Conductor Patti Garwood’s nine piece orchestra did sound terrific throughout.

Sister Act is not a production without sin, but it is still worth the trip to Lincolnshire for the singing and dancing nuns that are pure, heavenly fun.