If ever there was a film that should follow the adaptation-to-stage trajectory (in this case, a musical), it’s the 1992 film “Sister Act,” a hit for Whoopi Goldberg and costars Maggie Smith and Harvey Keitel.
Tony and Oscar Award-winning musician Alan Menken teamed up with lyricist Glenn Slater and writers Bill and Cheri Steinkellner to adapt “Sister Act” as a musical comedy. After a 2006 Pasadena regional premiere, the musical went on to fandom in London’s West End, and subsequently became a divine hit on Broadway with five Tony nominations in 2011. (By the way, Whoopi Goldberg was one of the producers.) And now, after a brief COVID delay, Metropolis’ buoyant production of “Sister Act” opened July 23.
It is directed by Sade’ May, with musical direction by DeMario Tribett, and a nine-piece live band. The plot involves Philadelphia night club songbird “Lady Fabulous” Deloris Van Cartier, who witnesses a shooting orchestrated by her married club owner boyfriend Curtis. In terror, Deloris flees to the police station where old friend Sweaty Eddie puts her into the witness protection program.
And where would the safest place be that Curtis, who wants Deloris killed, would never find her? Why, a convent, of course – The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith. And it is a convent where Mother Superior strictly enforces limited contact with the outside world, and assures Deloris that she cannot smoke, drink or wear any of her less than appropriate clothing. The diva on the run’s pseudonym is Sister Mary Clarence, and she is introduced as visiting from a “progressive convent.”
However, after a few missteps and criticisms, Deloris achieves redemption by leading the woefully tone-deaf choir. She teaches them how to sing on key and in time, which brings in more churchgoers and donations. The church is in desperate need of funds, and it’s about to be bought by two bachelor antique dealers. (A joke that never really goes anywhere and isn’t needed.) Naturally, Mother Superior is horrified that her simple, traditional choir is now modern, upbeat and becoming a super soulful group. The news of the choir spreads, and soon reporters and photographers are descending; you know what that means: the plot thickens. A papal visit is planned, but not before Curtis and his goons spot Deloris in the Channel 6 media coverage and …
Director May has a vibrant, 19-member ensemble that choreographer Jen Cupani puts through a joyful, energetic celebration from start to finish, reminiscent of those famous 1970s dancing singing groups.
And as for the cast, it is a showcase of consistent talent. Natalie Renee Savoy is the perfect Deloris – a disco diva and aspiring performer. Savoy’s vocals are all-encompassing, a belter with fluid moves and extraordinary comedic timing. Savoy’s personality is dynamic, with an evident chemistry with the entire ensemble and audience. You’ll understand when you witness “Take Me to Heaven.”
Lauren Miller is a divine Mother Superior. Miller plays her as a mature leader, old-fashioned, and initially unyielding when it comes to Deloris. She is endlessly disapproving, prayerfully arguing with God as she butts up against having Deloris in her midst. Miller is a petite powerhouse.
Athena Kopulos portrayed an exquisite, sheltered and withdrawn postulant, Sister Mary Robert, whose beautifully sung anthem “The Life I Never Lived” hit home with many audience members. Just as noteworthy is the perpetually perky and always smiling Natalie Henry as Sister Mary Patrick.
As for the male dynamos, there is Kedar Miller, who portrays Sweaty Eddie. He is a sweetheart with warm, smooth vocals; his rendition of “I Could Be That Guy” will tug on your heart strings. He also deals well with a costume gag. Jonathan Cortez is a wonderful Curtis – congenial, evil and appropriately sleazy in a white suit; he possesses very powerful vocals and captivating facial expressions.
Providing much of the comic relief and humorous antics are the goons, dim-witted thugs and altar boys Bob Hussey, Justin Ramirez, Brenden Zwiebel and Henry Allan; as for the good sisters, we are blessed with Valerie Gorman, Mary Heyl, Ania Martin, Natalie Mattson, Amber Parker, Tuesdai B. Perry and Barb Rieger. Of special note is Michelle Tibble as the delightful Sister Mary Lazarus, and the tall and elegant Christopher Johnson as trendy Monsignor O’Hara.
Although “Sister Act” might be light on plot, and the music focuses on Motown, soul, disco and funk, the themes of transformation, friendship and love are pretty obvious. The Metropolis once again scores with an engaging crowd-pleaser. It’s a spirited 2.5-hour production, I pray you’ll attend.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been in love with the theater since the first grade. She has appeared on stage and backstage in many capacities ranging from performer to director. Currently serving on the theater boards of RCLPC and It’s Showtime, she will direct the comedy “I Hate Hamlet” for Elgin Theatre Company this fall.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Sister Act”
WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
WHEN: Through Aug. 27
INFORMATION: 847-577-2121, www.metropolisarts.com