By George Basler
Mix some singing and dancing nuns with some gangsters on the prowl and disco music from the late 1970s, and you get an idea of what’s in store for audiences when Sister Act opens June 3 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center in Owego.
“It’s one of the shows that can get you on your feet and make you want to get up, sing and dance, and shake your tail feather,” said Alondra Hughes, who is playing the lead role in the production, which runs for three weekends.
The musical, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, is based on the 1992 movie of same name and revolves around disco singer Deloris Van Cartier (Hughes), who is placed in protective custody in a convent after witnessing a gangland murder. While dodging goons out to kill her, she turns a group of tone-deaf nuns into a singing supergroup that saves the convent from being shut down.
The show was a hit on Broadway when it opened in 2011, running 561 performances and being nominated for a Best Musical Tony. It has since had several touring productions in North America and the United Kingdom.
Ryan Canavan, who is secretary of the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players, recommended doing Sister Act after seeing it about six years ago and really enjoying it. He also wanted to stage a musical that showcases women. (Ti-Ahwaga’s previous musical this season, Spamalot, featured a largely male cast.). Two-thirds of Sister Act’s 18-person cast is female.
Canavan believes the show’s appeal stems from its likeability. “There’s something to be said about a show where audience members can root for the characters,” he said.
Canavan has acted in, and directed, numerous productions in the region. But this is his first time directing a musical. He’s working with K Morgan Prikazsky as choreographer and Chris Vanderwerker as music director. While working in a collaborative manner is different from his previous directing efforts, he’s thoroughly enjoying it, he said.
Hughes, most recently seen at Ti-Ahwaga as the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, knows she has big shoes to fill. Whoopi Goldberg gave “an iconic” performance in the movie, she said.
But Hughes hopes to put her own stamp on the role that she called “a more eccentric version of myself.”
Sister Act is very dance- and singing-oriented show, with short spoken scenes between the songs, Canavan said. He described the score, performed by a live orchestra, as an eclectic mix of “a lot of disco” plus soul music, rhythm and blues, and some Broadway standards.
Hughes said her main challenge has been finding the balance between the singing and dancing that the role requires: But “there is not a second I’m not smiling on stage,” she said.
Canavan hopes audience members will leave smiling as well. “The point is to have a good time. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
IF YOU GO: Sister Act will be performed June 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $30 with table seating. Visit tiahwaga.com.
Audience members are requested to wear masks in the lobby area.