The Barter Blog

"Sister Act" the Divine Musical Comedy reviewed by: Bonny Gable

May 23, 2018

“Sister Act” the Divine Musical Comedy
Review by Bonny Gable

Looking for an infusion of vitality, color and joyous inspiration into your life? Look no further than Barter Theatre’s rollicking production of “Sister Act.” Based on the famous film starring Whoopi Goldberg, this stage version with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane is an experience to be relished. Although the movie is an all-time favorite, there is even more to love in this story staged as a musical. The manner in which Barter has realized their vision for this show has created one that totally embraces everyone – audience and characters alike — in its passionate action and its joy.

It’s Christmas Eve 1977 in South Philadelphia when nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier accidentally witnesses a murder committed by her gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson. Running scared she seeks help from Detective Eddie Souther who decides to hide her where no one would ever think to look – in a convent of Catholic nuns. But how does one hide a peacock amongst gaggle of penguins? Deloris soon proves that you can hide her pretty feathers but you can’t change her stripes. Mother Superior attempts to tame her adventurous spirit by promptly putting her to work in the choir. With her irrepressible musical energy Deloris soon inspires her “sisters” to find their voices and finally rise up in harmonious song. A beautiful sisterhood blossoms as they learn to “party ‘til you make the cloister rock!”

And rock it does. Director Richard Rose has expertly marshaled his forces to guarantee an experience that enthralls from start to finish. He has perfectly honed this entertaining script in which the dialogue is clever, witty, pithy and as full of truth as it is of humor. The musical numbers range from sweet and comic ballads rending heart-felt desires to boisterous “knock you socks off” ensemble pieces filled with superb singing and spirited dancing.

Derek Smith’s glorious set design is definitely the centerpiece of this show. Capturing the vibrant artful facades of the South Philly streets, the stage is filled — literally from top to bottom — with a myriad of movable columns that ingeniously serve for a multitude of locations. As these pieces travel and turn with every scene they carry you with them on a sea of fantastic color, creating a spectacle that is exciting to behold.

The entire cast for this show is incredible. Every last member excels, working in flawless ensemble to provide a stellar performance. Raven Flowers definitely possesses leading lady talents with her fine lyrical voice and fierce approach to her portrayal of Deloris. She delivers a performance that is sassy, brassy and absolutely kicks. Justin Tyler Lewis as “Sweaty” Eddie Souther flexes his comedic muscle as the “kid” who never recovered from his high school crush on Deloris. We enjoy his fine singing talents as he croons a sultry solo professing his love, then belts out victory in a comic imaginary scene of conquest.

Tricia Matthews gives an outstanding turn as the sensitive but smart, “nobody’s fool” Mother Superior. Her subtle but pointed comebacks are delivered with a fabulous dry wit, and her songs of fervent pleas for guidance are sung with a beautiful, clear soprano voice.

Nick Koesters is the ultimate sleaze-ball as Curtis, but proffers a fine solid bass voice when he sings about his quest to find Deloris. His gangster back-up trio of Tyler Chandler (T J), Sean Maximo Campos (Pablo), and Rick McVey (Joey) is so delightfully comic in character, song, and dance that we find it impossible to hate them. Kim Morgan Dean shines as the effervescent Sister Mary Patrick, demonstrating a powerful singing voice as well as perfect comic timing. Hope Quinn endears us to Sister Mary Robert, who finally finds the courage to open up and sing with a glorious belt that takes down the house. And last, but not least at all, hats off to all in the company who play multiple roles, excelling at morphing into various characters as effortlessly as colorful chameleons.

Ashley Campos in her debut as solo Choreographer has done outstanding work, inventing moves that exquisitely match each style of music and convey the essence of the lyrics with vitality. Creating dance for nuns can be a challenge but Campos does it with panache, pulling them out of their comfort zone just enough to make them come truly alive. In “It’s Good to Be a Nun” her choreography of dining hall tables is an absolute delight.

While nuns’ habits remained constant through the centuries, the secular world of the 1970s that burst forth with color and wild patterns is aptly represented in Amanda Aldridge’s costume designs. From Deloris’s leopard mini dress and the psychedelic bell-bottom pants of her backup singers to the fabulous glittery robes of the finale we are treated to an exciting and eye popping wardrobe.

Andrew Morehouse’s lighting design enhances the wild color schemes and chaotic designs of the street facades but also manages wonderful support for reverent moments of reflection and prayer. Impeccable musical direction by Lee Harris is the crowning touch of this top-notch production. So let the joyous spirit of “Sister Act” embrace you this summer. You’ll have no regrets and you just might find your own voice. Praise be!

“Sister Act” runs through August 11.

For tickets and information: 276-628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com