Jennifer Allen, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
When Sister Act made its Broadway debut, the tale of friendship, heart and a wanna be lounge singer turned singing nun was up against the missionaries of The Book Of Mormon. The show hit the road and has found regional success, especially now at Paper Mill Playhouse. Restaging this 1992 Whoopi Goldberg star vehicle, with original direction by Jerry Zaks, Steven Beckler, has honed this show to heavenly transcendence. Anthony Van Laast is restaged by Janet Rothermel for celestial choreography. In seeing this show again the book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner, seems so much more clever and the music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater is perfection. Paper Mill Playhouse has given me a greater appreciation for this material. Above anything else Sister Act is a female empowerment tale, which leads to rapturous smiling, while tugging on you heartstrings with divine wisdom.
Sister Act follows aspiring Disco Diva, Deloris Van Cartier (Nicole Vanessa Ortiz) auditioning Christmas Eve to headline at a club managed by her married (to someone else) mobster beau, Curtis (Akron Watson) Jackson. Deloris is “Fabulous, Baby,” but Curtis says no to her act. For Christmas Curtis gives Deloris a blue/purple fur coat, owned by his wife. Seeking to tell Curtis off, Deloris accidentally witness Curtis murdering a police informant. Deloris runs to the local police for help and is assigned the boy who had a crush on her in High School “Sweaty” Eddie (Jarran Muse). In order to hide Deloris, so she can testify Eddie send her to The Queen of Angels Church. The Mother Superior (the fabulous Jennifer Allen) objects to taking Deloris in but Monsignor O’Hara (John Treacy Egan), parish priest, convinces her to go along with it as the police will pay the failing convent a good sum of money to do so. Disguised as “Sister Mary Clarence”, Deloris initially has difficulty dealing with the rigid and simple convent life but befriends the other nuns, Sister Mary Patrick (Kara Mikula), the elderly Sister Mary Lazarus (Diane J. Findlay) and the Novice Sister Mary Robert (Belinda Allyn0). Deloris sneaks out to a bar, followed by Mary Patrick and Mary Robert. They are caught by the Reverend Mother, who orders Deloris join the struggling choir. With her singing experience, Deloris becomes their director and transforms the choir.
Deloris and the new choir revitalize the parish starts to thrive so much they end up on national television and her lowlife ex sees her and puts out a hit.
Pope John Paul II, having heard of the choir’s success, is about to visit the church. Curtis sends his three goons; nephew TJ (the adorable Ryan Gregory Thurman), Joey (Todd A. Horman) and Pablo (Anthony Alfaro).
Eddie comes to move Deloris before the big concert, but Deloris realizes for the first time in her life she has sisters and people who care about her and returns.
Hilarious chases scene end with learning to accept and appreciate one another’s differences, Deloris, Mother Superior and the Nuns triumphant. Songs like “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me To Heaven” bring this showcase to an eye popping and highly satisfying conclusion.
This joyous filled production has amazingly divine individual performances. This is one angelically blessed cast.
Nicole Vanessa Ortiz is a star, though her lower softer phrases need to be mic’d more, as you lose the lyric.
From Curtis’ “When I Find My Baby” a detailed account about how he will dismember Deloris when he catches her, Sweaty Eddie’s “I Could Be That Guy”, TJ, Joey and Pablo’s “Lady In The Long Black Dress”, Mary Robert’s “The Life I Never Lead,”
to Mother Superior glorious “Here Within These Walls” and “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” these performances are riveting. Many were better than the Broadway production.
The set design by Klara Zieglerova, costume designer by Lez Brotherston, with additional costume design and costume coordination by Leon Dobkowski, lighting design by Charlie Morrison, hair and wig design by Kaitlyn Adams, and casting by Binder Casting were all “Fabulous Baby” and
If Paper Mill Playhouse’s Sister Act were opening on Broadway this season, it would win the Tony Award. Audiences should flock to this production which is perfection in every way and will have you leaving the theatre smiling from ear to ear.
Sister Act:Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive Millburn, New Jersey until June 26th.