Sister Act Anoints Audiences with the Gospel of Laughter

Before 2006, Sister Act was a boilerplate comedy, with motley reviews, that depended on the star power of Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Harvey Keitel to fill box office seats.  In 2006, Sister Act was reincarnated into a musical with a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater.   The production premiered on October 24, 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse, closed December 2006 and became the highest grossing show at that venue.  In 2009, the show went international; Stage Entertainment and Whoopi Goldberg produced Sister Act at the London Palladium. 

Currently back in the states, Whoopi Goldberg is also back in the habit and on Broadway as one of the show’s producers.  Sister Act was a money maker for Whoopi back in 1992 and it is a Tony Award nominated smash hit for her now, but this reinvented musical of it comedic predecessor is its own hilarious entity.  Like the movie, Sister Act chronicles the story of Deloris Van Cartier – a ne’er do well lounge singer wasting her days in a Philadelphia nightclub owned by her married, thug boyfriend Curtis Jackson, played by Kingsley Leggs.  When returning a recycled gift – a coat previously owned by Jackson’s wife – Deloris stumbles upon Jackson and goons murdering a member of his crew believed to be an informant.  Deloris goes on the run, literally, and runs to a police precinct where she is reunited with Eddie Souther, an old school chum that used to have a crush on her.  Souther, a cop now, arranges for her to hide in a convent, and the holy hijinks are kicked into high gear.   

Even in a nun’s habit, Deloris – now dubbed Sister Mary Clarence for her own protection – is as noticeable as the follicles protruding from Don King’s head and driving the convent’s Mother Superior, played by Victoria Clark, round the bend.  Mother Superior decides to put Deloris’ singing talent to good use and puts her in charge of the cacophonous choir.  Deloris manages to raise the voices of the dissonant nuns and adds a little touch of disco for show.  Despite the objections and prayers of Mother Superior, Deloris is a savior.  The choir’s funky sound attracts parishioners, donations and helps to save the church.  Even the pope wants to see them.  A news report about the pope’s visit gets Deloris spotted on television and must she relocate again to avoid Curtis and his lackeys.   But Deloris is determined to stand by her new found sisters and they stand by her, even with the knowledge that she is not who she claimed she was.  Mother Superior has a change of heart about Deloris as well.  The nuns and Eddie foil Curtis’ plans for payback and Deloris and the sisters perform for the pope.

I have never laughed so hard in a theatre before.  Sister Act may have taken a long route to get to Broadway, but there is no doubt that its future is just as bright as the Great White Way itself.  It is a crowd pleaser from beginning to end.  I tried to find holes in this show, but there are none – my mirth cup runneth over.   Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical, and the music of Alan Menken and the lyrics Glenn Slater received a Tony nomination for Best Original Score.  Set designer Klara Zieglernova’s vision for each scene was right on point, by the end of the production the audience did view a marriage of disco and divinity.  Costume designer Lez Brotherston sparkly, glitzy fashions made me want to pick up a habit.  Although their efforts did not receive Tony nominations, all the members of the creative team, including director Jerry Zaks, provided a heavenly pitch.  Only thing the actors had to do was knock it out the park, and that is exactly what they did.

Patina Miller reprises her role as Deloris Van Cartier; she was first cast in the role during the London version. She shines brighter than the Swarovski crystals used in the costumes.  Miller has attitude for days with the vocal chops to back it up – her Tony Award nomination is a no-brainer.   Tony Award winner Victoria Clark is angelic as Mother Superior.  The comedic tension between she and Miller is wonderful to watch.  Sarah Bolt as Sister Mary Patrick is a breath of ethereal air.  Her presence is so bubbly and infectious; I wish I could bottle her and sell her.  Giving contrast to Bolt’s perky personality, is Audrie Neenan as Sister Mary Lazarus – she completely prickly but no less a hoot.  Her snarky lines are well received by New Yorkers – citizens not known for being very peppy.

Although this production is a real sisterhood, the men in the cast manage to hold their own.  Kingsley Leggs is a villain you will love to despise; he is Nino Brown with an afro and a great singing voice.  Chester Gregory may be known as “Sweaty” Eddie, but it doesn’t detract from his talent.  As my aunt would say, “That boy can sang!”  Desmond Green is a scream as TJ, Curtis Jackson’s dimwitted relative and subordinate.  Fred Applegate, John Treacy and Caesar Samayoa also provide plenty of moments for the audience to chuckle heartily.

To speak of the gospel is to tell the truth – to spread good news.  This is not the type of show one goes to if they are looking to impress others with their knowledge of culture and the arts at a future dinner party.  This production is for someone that likes a little amusement with their theatre.   Funny…flashy…with a musical score that is sure to remembered for the ages, this show is too fabulous baby!

Photos by Joan Marcus

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65th Annual Tony Award Nominations Have Been Announced

Today Whoopi Goldberg and her sisters have plenty to celebrate, Harry Potter and Dan Lauria were snubbed and theatre legend Patti LuPone is on the verge of another victory.  If you did not catch the hint, the nominations for the 2011 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards were announced this morning.  Tony Award winners Matthew Broderick and Anika Noni Rose hosted the event, which were held at The New York Public Library for Performing Arts.  There are 26 competitive categories that were announced.  Below are the nominations for the major awards, but if you want to view the announcement in its entirety, go to http://www.tonyawards.com.

Best Play

Good People, Jerusalem, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, War Horse

Best Musical

The Book of Mormon, Catch Me If You Can, The Scottsboro Boys, Sister Act

Best Revival of a Play

Arcadia, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Merchant of Venice, The Normal Heart

Best Revival of a Musical

Anything Goes, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Brian Bedford, The Importance of Being Earnest

Bobby Cannavale, The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart

Al Pacino, The Merchant of Venice

Mark Rylance, Jerusalem

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday

Frances McDormand, Good People

Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice

Vanessa Redgrave, Driving Miss Daisy

Hannah Yelland, Brief Encounter

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can

Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon

Joshua Henry, The Scottsboro Boys

Andrew Rannells, The Book of Mormon

Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Sutton Foster, Anything Goes

Beth Leavel, Baby It’s You!

Patina Miller, Sister Act

Donna Murphy, The People in the Picture

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Mackenzie Crook, Jerusalem

Billy Crudup, Arcadia

John Benjamin Hickey, The Normal Heart

Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Yul Vázquez, The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Ellen Barkin, The Normal Heart

Edie Falco, The House of Blue Leaves

Judith Light, Lombardi

Joanna Lumley, La Bête

Elizabeth Rodriguez, The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys

Adam Godley, Anything Goes

John Larroquette, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Forrest McClendon, The Scottsboro Boys

Rory O’Malley, The Book of Mormon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Tammy Blanchard, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Victoria Clark, Sister Act

Nikki M. James, The Book of Mormon

Patti LuPone, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

 Photo:  J. Countess/WireImage.com

Broadway Takes Time to Give

On May 17 some of Broadway’s power players gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel to lend their support and signatures to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ “Time to Give” Auction.  The “Time to Give” auction is a collaboration between Audemars Piguet Swiss watches and the Tony Awards. Each watch will be a one-of-a-kind creation featuring the celebrity’s signature recreated on the back or side.

Kelsey Grammer and Jay-Z

 

Legends of the Great White Way attended the invitation-only auction, conducted by Christie’s Lydia Fenet.  Liev Schreiber’s signature watch sold for $13,000.  Screen and stage veteran Catherine Zeta Jones’ signed timepiece brought in $80,000 and Nathan Lane’s autographed watch sold for $26,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francois-Henry Bennahmias and Vanessa Williams

Meryl Streep is not only a big draw at the box office; she is big draw on the auction block as well.  Her watch sold for $100,000.  Francois-Henry Bennahmias, President and CEO of Audemars Piguet North America, provided a second autographed Meryl Streep Millenary Astrologia watch to a guest willing to match the $100,000 bid.  Kelsey Grammer’s autographed Jules Audemars Chronograph watch sold for $45,000.   Vanessa Williams sang an a cappella rendition of “Losing My Mind,” which she sings in Sondheim on Sondheim, live after someone paid $50,000 for her watch.  Jay-Z brought in the highest price of the evening for his autographed Royal Oak Offshore Las Vegas Strip timepiece.  His signature watch and signed poster from Fela! sold for $220,000. 

Other celebrities that lent their signatures to Audemars Piguet watches were Antonio Banderas, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Edie Falco, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Hayes, Neil Patrick Harris, David Hyde Pierce, Hugh Jackman, Jane Krakowski, Angela Lansbury, Cyndi Lauper, John Lithgow, Sienna Miller, Bebe Neuwirth, Cynthia Nixon, Chita Rivera and Anika Noni Rose.  Fifteen of the autographed Swiss timepieces are still available for bidding at www.charitybuzz.com/audemarspiguet.  The auction closes on May 24.

Photos: © Bill Davila/startraksphotos.com