Reviewed by Katherine Karlson
There are many lame jokes one could make about the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players’ current musical offering, Sister Act, such as “It’s so good, it’s sinful” or “Devilishly funny!”, but even those trite praises are worth repeating to reinforce what a rollicking, entertaining production this is.
The musical is based on the 1992 film that headlined Whoopi Goldberg as a third-tier lounge singer, Deloris Van Cartier, who goes into hiding as a nun in a convent that’s as down on its luck as she is. The musical moves the convent from San Francisco to Philadelphia but loses nothing in the relocation.
Lest anyone expect a cloistered sweetness-and-light tale along the lines of The Bells of St. Mary’s or The Nun’s Story” think again. This is a play that finds a plausible rhyme for “transubstantiate” without a hiccup and has a chorus of nuns sing: “Only when you’re miserable can you feel truly blessed.” The book by Cheri and Bill Steinkenner is a solid match for the clever lyrics of Glenn Slater, set to the tuneful music of Alan Menken.
Director Ryan Canavan delivers the irreverent humor and slapstick action to the max, thanks to a cast that includes both familiar theatrical faces and newcomers.
First and foremost, Alondra Hughes brings tremendous energy, personality and a set of pipes that rings the rafters to the lead role of Deloris, a.k.a., Sister Mary Catherine. Hughes deftly juggles the supreme self-confidence of a woman who knows who she is and what she wants (“Fabulous, Baby!”) with a dawning realization that what really matters doesn’t come clad in a white sequin dress and white fox fur, à la Donna Summers (“Sister Act”).
Her polar opposite is Mother Superior, played by Andréa Gregori, whom local audiences most recently saw as Maria Callas in Master Class at Cider Mill Stage. Gregori has a face that could launch a thousand ships with its expressive moods. She has the patience of a saint who’s rapidly losing it with Deloris. This one exchange gives an example: “Is there a smoking section?” (Deloris) “Yes, and you’re heading for it.” (Mother Superior). Gregori brings a well-honed sense of the ironic to the role along with an excellent voice.
The male roles are equally well cast. One of the funniest physical actors to tread the boards in these parts is Cole Tucker, who plays Eddie Souther, the police officer who puts Deloris into her holy hideaway. A smitten high school pal with the unfortunate moniker of “Sweaty Eddie,” his song, “I Could Be That Guy,” makes it clear there’s more to him that a pair of sodden underarms.
His moral opposite is the sleazy, misogynist Curtis Jackson, the married lover whom Deloris sees offing a stool pigeon among his gang. Howard Scot Saggiomo has made a solid career of playing guys we love to hate, and his Curtis is first among equals. His signature song, “When I Find My Baby,” produces both chills and belly laughs.
Notable in the laugh department are the Muff-and-Jeff duo of T.J. and Joey, played by Marquis Lown and Josh Wilburn, respectively. Their duet, “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” is a hysterical mash-up of Barry White with the Magnificat.
Lesser characters also made a big impression, such as K. Morgan Prikazsky as Sister Mary Robert. The timid, mousey postulant shines in her declaration of new-found selfhood, “The Life I Never Led.” Prikazsky also choreographed the show, which is no small feat given the limited stage area and diverse dance experience of her troupe. The results were satisfying and entertaining.
Musical Director Christopher Vanderwerker leads the small ensemble of musicians through a demanding score, and even took on the role of Pablo in a pinch on June 5.
Sister Act at the Ti-Ahwaga Players in Owego: It would be a sin to miss it!
IF YOU GO: Sister Act opened June 3 and runs weekends through June 19 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 with discounts for children, students and seniors. Go to tiawhaga.com to purchase tickets. Call 607-687-2130 for more information.