By Alan Menken (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics);
and Cheri and Bill Steinkellner
Directed by Jerry Zaks
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru Dec 2 | tickets: $28-$150 | more info
Check for half-price tickets
A big amen for this funny, touching, and slightly bawdy show!
Broadway in Chicago presents
Review by K.D. Hopkins
Confession time – bless me dear readers for I have enjoyed this musical thoroughly. I wonder what Sister DeSales and Dolorosa would think of this funny, touching, and slightly bawdy show? I may never know for sure but I think that they would certainly approve of the music and how good prevails over evil.
The story of Deloris Van Cartier (“like Cartier’s) – the disco diva wannabe from Philadelphia is done in full magnificence. Ta’Rea Campbell plays Deloris with ebullience and sparkle. This show brings me back to the golden age of urban musicals such as Purlie Victorious! and Your Arm’s Too Short To Box With God. Alan Menken and Glenn Slater have written beautiful tunes that pay homage to the great Sound of Philadelphia era.
Hollis Resnik, a mainstay on Chicago stages, is pure gold as Mother Superior. When she takes of her wimple during “I Haven’t Got A Prayer”, I jumped in my seat with Catholic reflex syndrome. She so embodies the role that it felt intimate to see her hair. Resnik embodies the stern disciplinarian and skillfully surrenders to embrace Deloris as a sister in the truest sense to be protected and loved.
The character of Deloris van Cartier is an amalgam of Cinderella and Eliza Doolittle with a lot of soul mixed in. Ta’Rea Campbell goes full tilt with her voice and colors every note beautifully and soulfully. She is a great singer without overuse of melisma. The opening disco audition for bad guy Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs) is a 1970’s delight. The costumes, the choreography and the orchestration are perfect down to the slapping rhythm guitar. Jackson does well with what is essentially a one-dimensional character.
Curtis Jackson’s sidekicks Joey (Todd A. Horman), Pablo (Ernie Pruneda), and TJ (Charles Barksdale) give magic to the art of fumbling and stumbling bad guys. The song “Lady in the Long Black Dress” is a hysterical sendup of the seducer songs of Barry White, Larry Graham, and Teddy Pendergrass. Horman works it in a pair of Jaymar Sansabelt slacks and wide lapel shirt. Pruneda sings and says everything in Spanish which is used for side splitting effect when one of the nuns translates his threats. The standout is Barksdale as Curtis’ nephew TJ. Barksdale calls to mind the Great One – Jackie Gleason and Johnny Brown. He uses his girth gracefully and has an angelic voice. Barksdale has great comic timing and delivery and is a lot of fun to watch.
The sisters of the failing parish are a delight as well. Lael Van Keurin as Sister Mary Robert is a showstopper. Van Keurin has a voice that knocks you back in your chair. When she sings “The Life I Never Had” the audience goes wild. She has the perfect blend of comedy, emotion and not enough can be said about that voice. Fantastic. Sister Mary Lazarus (Diane Findlay) is the nun who has a lot of soul hidden under the wimple. And Sister Mary Patrick (Florrie Bagel) is near comic genius as the mischievous nun who wants to have a little fun. Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) gets into the spirit of things with a Barry White welcome to services that brings the house down.
Sweaty Eddie (E. Clayton Cornelious) is another gem in this musical extravaganza. Cornelious embodies Sweaty Eddie from Deloris’ grammar school. He still carries his heart on a sleeve and is more of a Barney Fife as a cop having had his gun taken away. His character is another Cinderella story within the play. His star turn with the song “I Could Be That Guy” is simply wonderful and his vocal chops are gorgeous.
This is a show to see – hopefully it will be held over for the holidays. It’s good for the whole family. As I said, it is bawdy, but nothing to cover the kid’s ears is ever sung or spoken. The night I went, there were several priests and nuns in the house and they all had a great time as well from what I could see. This is Broadway which has become more about the way a show is performed and produced than a place in New York. I left the Auditorium doing some steps from the 70’s like the Camel Walk all the way to the El.
Sister Act continues through December 2nd at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map), with performances at varying day/times. Tickets are $28-$150, and are available by phone (800-982-2787) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AuditoriumTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Ta’Rea Campbell (Deloris Van Cartier), Alysha Deslorieux (Michelle), Trisha Jeffrey (Tina), Kingsley Leggs (Curtis Jackson), Todd Horman (Joey), Ernie Pruneda (Pablo), Charles Barksdale (TJ), Jason Simon (Ernie), E. Clayton Cornelious (Eddie), Melvin Abston (Cop), Hollis Resnik (Mother Superior), Richard Pruitt (Monsignor O’Hara), Lael Van Keurin (Mary Robert), Florroe Bagel (Mary Patrick), Diane Findlay (Mary Lazarus), Wendy James (Mary Martin of Tours), Karen Elliot (Mary Theresa), Michelle Rombola (Waitress), Brian Cali (Joey Finnochio), Blair Goldberg, Mary Jo McConnell, Ashley Moniz, Angie Marie Smith, Tricia Tanguy, Kelly E. Waters, Dashaun Young (ensemble)
Brent Alan Huffman (conductor and keyboards), Susan Draus (associate conductor, keyboards, and librarian), Christopher Babbage (keyboards and band tech),Lynn Keller (bass), Taurus Lovely (drums) Mark Olen (trumpet, flugelhorn 1), Chuck Parrish (trumpet, flugelhorn 2) Michael Joyce (trombone), Steve Leinheiser (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Doug Lawrence (guitars, steel, nylon string, acoustic, and electric), Tim Morey (percussion), Bob Sutter (keyboard)
behind the scenes
Jerry Zaks (director), Danny George, Erin Henry (swings, dance captain and co-captain) Klara Zieglerova (scenic design), Lez Brotherston (costume design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Ken Travis (sound design), David Brian Brown (wig and hair design), Geoffrey Quart (technical supervision), Janet Rothermel (associate choreographer), Mark Hummel (dance music arranger), Brent Alan Huffman (music director), Doug Besterman (orchestrations), Talitha Fair (music coordination), Michael Kosarin (music supervisor, vocal and incidental arrangements), Whoopi Goldberg, Joop Van Den Ende, Bill Taylor and Randall A. Buck (producers); Joan Marcus (photos)