OREM — Don’t be deceived by the small space where Alan Menken‘s and Glenn Slater‘s Sister Act is now playing. Other than the stage, there is nothing small about this production at Hale Center Theater Orem. From the minute the house lights went down and the stage lights went up, I felt like I was transported to the 1970s, witnessing the larger-than-life events happening to Deloris Van Cartier (played by Aria Love Jackson).
The show begins with Deloris and her backup singers Michelle (played by Brooke Holladay) and Tina (played by Emily Runyan) singing in a night club. My eye was immediately drawn to the projections used to create the night club setting. It was a brilliant way for set designer Cole McClure to make a small stage seem not only bigger, but also bring the whole set to life. Also grabbing my attention were the hideous, but perfect, costumes to portray 1970s fashions. The loud colors, huge patterns, bell-bottoms, and comically long pointed shirt collars, designed by Dvorah Governale, were so eye catching.
But the most memorable aspect of the whole play was the amazing vocal and acting ability of Jackson. Her voice was rich and soulful. She could hit the high notes as effortlessly as she could the low notes. Her acting appeared effortless too. She didn’t act like she was acting, but rather had me really thinking she was Deloris.
Jackson’s was not the only stellar performance, and everyone on stage was enjoyable to watch. Each nun had a distinct personality and lovable character. Andrea Chapman played the stone faced and somewhat emotionally closed off Sister Mary Lazarus — who completely took me by surprise when she started rapping in “Raise Your Voice.” Sister Mary Patrick (played by Tatem Trotter) was just the perfect balance of sunny and quirky. Abigail Fillmore, as Sister Mary Roberts, had a stunningly powerful voice. Once the reserved nun found her confidence in “The Life I Never Led,” there was no hiding the sass of her personality.
Another standout was Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (played by Brittni Smith), with her giant glasses and small understanding of what was going on around her. And Jayne Luke elevated every scene as the spunky Sister Mary Theresa who, at the age of 72, danced and sang with as much energy as anyone else in the cast. And while Mother Superior (played by Mindy Taylor) seemed rather stiff and cold, it felt like the perfect character choice for one who is trying to keep peace and stability among her nuns who are being stirred up by the presence of Deloris.
Not to be outdone by the female performers, the male cast was just as energetic and entertaining to watch. Carson Davies played the nerdy and overlooked Eddie Southers, the police officer who is trying to keep Deloris safe from her mobster boyfriend. Davies’s excellent singing voice turned the “loser” Sweaty Eddie into the heartthrob — the guy I was hoping would get the girl in the end. And Andrew Oliverson made the perfect bad guy as Curtis Jackson. His gravelly voice and slicked back hair made him believable as a mobster. But the real shocker was his incredible vocal performance in “When I Find My Baby.” Oliverson was able to belt out the song, while still keeping a gravelly tone to his voice.
Perhaps the real mark of a great musical comes from the performance of the ensemble. They can make or break the show. This ensemble, though small, was powerful. Curtis’s minions TJ, Joey, Pablo, and Ernie (played by Joseph Paul Branca, Will Baird, Ray Hernandez, and Oakley Thacker, respectively) had it all: great voices, perfect comedic timing, and smooth dance moves. I was crying tears of laughter during “When I Find My Baby” as these men provided beautiful backup vocals and peppy dance moves that were in complete contrast to the angry words Curtis was singing. And in “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” director/choreographer David Paul Smith combined the vocal talent of Curtis’s lackeys, upbeat choreography, and the use of the projector screens to create a memorable scene and make even the bad guys a little more lovable.
The nuns had several ensemble numbers that raised the roof (as well as voices) too. “Raise Your Voice,” “Take Me to Heaven,” and “Sunday Morning Fever” had more than just Monsignor O’Hara (the excitable and perpetually optimistic Father played flawlessly by Kye Tanner) dancing in the aisles. I watched as several audience members began to dance along with the nuns from their seats!
Hale Center Theater Orem’s production of Sister Act showcases all aspects of theater, from unique set design to lively choreography and energetic, memorable music to spunky characters. It even contains small details that could easily be overlooked but add that perfect touch to the show (like the slightly echoey sound to the microphones whenever the characters are in the cathedral). Sister Act is a great show for all ages. Readers should be aware, though, that there is some cussing (especially in the first act) and gun shots fired (in both acts).