Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Based on the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, the story follows Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring lounge singer who runs to the police when she sees her gangster boyfriend commit murder. Deloris needs to stay out of sight until she can testify at trial and ends up trading her flashy threads for a wimple and veil. The arrangement seems untenable but with some good music, a little love, and a lot of sequins, all things are possible. Dan'yelle Williamson gives an earthy and sassy performance as Ms. Cartier. The setting is Philadelphia in the late 1970s and there are a lot of fun local references and funky '70s flair thanks to Gail Baldoni's costumes.
There isn't much in terms of tension or conflict written into the story, so the show relies heavily on its high energy musical numbers and a talented cast to fill the many comic roles. The songs that feature a chorus of increasingly bedazzled booty-shaking nuns are a joy to watch. Three hapless henchmen (played to the utmost by Fran Prisco, Tony Castellanos, and Justin Keyes) are laugh out loud funny in "Lady in the Long Black Dress," which also features the show's best use of nun-related word play. "I Could Be That Guy" and "When I Find My Baby" are both tremendous, thanks to Kent Overshown's (Eddie Souther) awkward charm and Philip Michael Baskerville's (Curtis Jackson) sleazy swagger, respectively. Ron Wisniski gets big laughs as the adorably excitable Monsignor O'Hara. Mary Martello gives an impressive performance that is both giggle worthy and vocally strong as Mother Superior, but none of the nuns belt it out better than Laura Giknis (young Sister Mary Robert). Giknis is a vocal powerhouse and it hardly seems possible that such a fulsome and joyful sound could come from so slight a figure.
Sister Act has its share of problems. Few of the songs are memorable, the pace of the production slows to a crawl more than once, and the plot is overly simplistic at best. Fortunately, the strong comic performances and high energy gospel choir numbers offset these problems. In the end, Sister Act comes through as an easy and enjoyable evening of mindless entertainment perfect for an early summer night out.
Sister Act runs until July 17, 2016, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States