WEST VALLEY CITY — Like any musical loving kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I loved the movie Sister Act when it came out. Being a Mormon girl from Utah, my understanding of nuns seemed to be limited to various musical endeavors, so it was not too difficult for me to buy into the idea of nuns suddenly forming a popular gospel choir. So when Alan Menken and Glenn Slater decided to write songs for a stage adaption of the story, I assumed it would be a fun show. However, I had never had the chance to see the musical, with a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, that opened on Broadway in 2011. I was excited to learn that Hale Center Theatre in West Valley had decided to put on a production, so I could see how this story translated to the stage.
The first thing that can be said is that the set and costume design at Hale was fabulous. Costume designer Barbara Harvey Abbott utilized color and flare in ways that would not be expected in a show where most of the cast are dressed in nun habits. She also took advantage to utilize the 1970s era that the action of the play is set in (different from that of the movie) in order to have some fun with the characters who were not part of the convent. Set designer Kacey Udy added to the ambiance by creating a colorful, visually delightful set. I enjoyed how the lighting, by Adam Flitton, also corresponded with the set, using disco balls of the era, as well as colors and angles to give the stage not only a good appearance, but to also expand upon the small size of the stage for the benefit of the players. The double turntable use of the set was also a great way to keep all of the audience engaged, a difficulty in a theatre in the round design.
As for the show itself, the talent of the actors was key in helping make this show an enjoyable experience. The actual story and script was slow for the first half of the first act, which had me concerned in the beginning. However, Raven Flowers, who expertly plays the main character Deloris Van Cartier, was able to save the slow moments with her strong voice, and charismatic command of the stage. When the production finally got to the part of the choir singing, the pace began to really pick up thanks to Flowers and a myriad of other characters. Of note was the novice Mary Robert, played by Kelly Coombs, and Mary Patrick, played by Zoe Wilde. Coombs portrayed the innocence of her character so well, and had a moving number, “The Life I Never Lead,” that surprised me in its deep meaning and execution. Wilde, on the other hand, was full of such fun and life that it made me want to see her on stage more.
Each time the nuns began to sing and dance, it was quite apparent that the cast was having a great time being in this show. The final two numbers in the first act, “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me to Heaven,” are exactly the type of numbers people come to a theatrical production to see. I was impressed with the choreography of Dave Tinney, and how aware he was of the space he was using, and making sure the audience could enjoy the numbers from every angle. Tinney also served as the director of the show, and it worked to his advantage to ensure that the action was varied in the setting.
The side characters, Bad guy Curtis, played by Brannon Killgo and his minions, TJ (Adam Garner), Joey (Bryan Dayley), and Pablo (Matthew Richards), were amusing. However they lacked the energy that the nuns kept constant, therefore leaving me wishing their numbers would be shortened so I could get back to the performances with higher energy.
Love interest and good guy Eddie, played by Keith McKay Evans, was a wonderful addition to the show. He was able to play the typical nice guy that usually finishes last with great precision, leaving the audience really hoping that things will finally turn his way. Because of this, when he sings to Deloris the song “Fabulous, Baby,” you can feel the entire audience hoping Deloris can see what a great guy he is.
This production was a fun time, and shows often seem better when you can tell that the cast is having an excellent time bringing it all together. It pays enough attention and care to the spirit of the movie that fans will be pleased. However with the wonderful music by Menken and Slater, it also takes on a life of its own outside the original film, making it an entertaining event even for those who are not aware of the original Sister Act.