DRAPER — If you haven’t seen Sister Act before, be prepared for a fantastic mix of humor, romance, disco, and faith. Based on a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with lyrics and music by Glenn Slater and Alan Menken, this musical performance is a much less explicit version of The Book of Mormon for the Roman Catholic religion: satirizing some orthodox Christian traditions and culture, yet not directly attacking the church. The enthralling musical story invites its audience to contemplate what is most important in life.
Directed by Bruce Craven at the Draper Amphitheatre, Sister Act truly showcased the excellence of community theatre. Craven made great use of the stage, having scenes take place at different locations throughout the performance. One scene in particular during the first act of the play had all the nuns and postulates seated for dinner. The set was laid out and the acting was blocked in a way that comically reflected da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” The religious innuendos, paired with contemporary humor and brilliant direction from Craven, made the show all the more enjoyable.
Scenic artists Bruce Craven and Chloe’ Cox kept the set simple yet versatile. The production began with a small desk at stage left, some chairs to stage right, and a backdrop with maroon curtains and silver tinsel reminiscent of a junior high school dance—and yet these seemingly unsophisticated pieces were practically perfect for Sister Act. Craven and Cox designed a variety of backdrops and props, all of which seemed to be turned around to create a completely new atmosphere in just moments. I also applaud stage manager McKenna Hockemier and her stage hands, Rebekah Jones and Aubrianna Wallace, as well as the performers that helped to make scene changes quick, effective, and non-distracting. For example, when the scenes changed during the first act from a police station to a bar, I almost didn’t notice the transition behind the actors. These moments were well rehearsed and much appreciated.
Costume design by Tina Barnes exhibited both the nuns’ habits of traditional Roman Catholicism as well as the bright, glittery, and upbeat outfits signature of the late 1970s. My personal favorites were the sparkly, colorful scapulars (or aprons) that the nuns and postulant wore during their disco-inspired, God-praising musical performances. I would be crazy not to note the unbelievable costume changes during the song “I Could Be That Guy,” wherein a double costume change featured two consecutive outfits being ripped off a character, only to reveal additional, apposite costumes underneath.
Kortney King-Lives stars in the role of Deloris Van Cartier. King-Lives’s character was a not-so-inconspicuous local singer who lived a high-risk lifestyle. King-Lives has strong musical and acting abilities, with a fantastic vocal range that paired brilliantly with her sass and attitude, doing Deloris justice. Especially when she participated in the group numbers with other nuns, such as during the song “Raise Your Voice” in the first act, her talent shone. However, King-Lives seemed slightly nervous at the start of the show, and lacked emotion during many of her songs; she is brilliantly talented, and when she relaxed and focused on enjoying the production being put on, her nerves did not get in the way. If she realizes that she has the acting and singing abilities necessary for this role, and allows her sassy and fun facial expressions and emotions to come through when she sings, her performance would improve greatly.
Mother Superior was portrayed by Emily Hawkes, who was absolutely convincing in her role. Not only was her beautiful singing voice perfect for the head nun of the Philadelphian convent, but her gestures, uptight attitude, and ability to believably change for the better as a character as the story unfolded proved that Hawkes has true theatrical talent. The convent’s postulant, Mary Robert, played by Jenni McKay, was also spectacular. Not only was McKay able to convincingly portray an excited, naive young nun candidate, but her incredible voice was strikingly similar to that of Kristen Bell. Both the original performance of “The Life I Never Led” and its reprisal were stunning and applause-worthy.
The other nuns were also highly entertaining in their roles. Sister Mary Patrick (played by Courtney Byron) had a contagious laughter and perfect personality for the spunky and unafraid nun, with powerful vocal chords exhibited during a variety of performances, including the song “Bless Our Show” during act two. Byron’s overexcited outbursts added to the hilarity of nearly every situation presented. The convent’s original choir director, Sister Mary Lazarus (played by Heidi Spann), was also very talented. I was especially amazed by her rapping skills during the production’s second act.
Spencer Marsh was cast as “sweaty” Eddie, a local police officer with a longtime crush on Deloris. Marsh sang his heart out during his performance of “I Could Be That Guy,” one of my favorite Sister Act songs. Accompanied by the shopping cart-pulling, dumpster-diving, and booze-guzzling homeless population, Marsh’s on-the-streets recital was absolutely spectacular. I was amazed at Marsh’s acting skills as he was able to make the character his own with dance moves, facial expressions, and nods to the audience that proved he was perfect for the role. This musical number alone was worth the trip to see the show.
I also feel inclined to note two very talented actors with more minor roles in the production: Joshua Morris, who played TJ, and Zach Raddatz, who played five credited characters. Morris, though he had minimal acting experience listed in the playbill, was suiperb. With a natural comfort on the stage and fantastic vocal talent utilized in at least three songs, I would be surprised if Morris were not cast in many more theatrical productions in the near future. Raddatz added comedy to every scene he entered, and made a number of lightning-quick costume changes in order to come in as a new character in a new scene. One of my absolute favorite roles of his was that of an altar boy who brought out a large poster with a thermostat that measured the congregation’s financial contributions to the convent, with the over-the-top flair characteristic of television presenters such as Vanna White. Absolute gold, Raddatz.
A couple of constructive criticisms to conclude: the opening number, “Take Me to Heaven,” definitely needs some extra rehearsal. The harmonies of the ensemble were pitchy and the choreography was almost never in sync. In addition, the sound operation throughout the production would benefit from supplementary practice. Certain microphones (such as some of the ensemble during the opening act or Deloris’s microphone during the final scene) seemed to be turned off, while others, such as those of performers backstage during the first police station scene during the first act, were left on and could be heard over the actors and actresses onstage.
With those few critiques, I am glad I did not miss Sister Act. My wife and I raved about the talent of Draper’s local thespians as we drove home. We were awed by the storytelling abilities of both the original writers and composers, as well as those locals putting on the show for Utah residents to experience and enjoy. I only wish that this “divine musical comedy” were to stay at the Draper Amphitheatre just a little longer.