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Photo Flash: Westchester Broadway Theatre Presents SISTER ACT
Zuri Washington and Company                            Photos by John Vecchiolla

                                          By Ed Lieberman


Those in need of spiritual uplift should come to the newest church in Town: the Chapel of Soul, otherwise known as the Westchester Broadway Theatre


For its 205th production, WBT is mounting a rousing and joyous production of Sister Act, based on the popular 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg. The stage version took an unusual route to Broadway: although this American-themed show premiered in Pasadena in 2006, its first major production was in London, where it opened in June 2009 and ran for sixteen months. It did not open on Broadway, with a new book and score, until April 2011, and ran until August 2012, garnering five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.


The basic story of the show remains true to the film: Deloris Van Cartier (played here by the exuberant and charismatic Zuri Washington), is a singer at a nightclub run by her mobster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (Philip Michael Baskerville). Deloris hopes Curtis will introduce her to a record producer. It quickly becomes evident that Jackson has no intention of giving her that break anytime soon (the tipoff is when he gives Deloris his wife’s discarded fur coat as a birthday present). When Deloris tries to return the coat, she unwittingly witnesses Curtis and his posse of comically incompetent henchmen (his nephew T.J., Joey and Pablo) killing someone who they suspected had been cooperating with the police in making a case against him.


Photo Flash: Westchester Broadway Theatre Presents SISTER ACT

Zuri Washington and Mary Jo McConnell


Deloris goes on the run.  Policeman Eddie Souther (a hilarious Danny Wilfred), who Deloris recognizes from high school, where he was known as “Sweaty Eddie,” takes Deloris to a local convent, thinking that for someone with Deloris’ reputation, taste and proclivities, the convent would make a perfect hiding place. Of course, the incongruity of Deloris’ presence in a convent also provides the seeds of tension between Deloris and Mother Superior (Mary Jo McConnell), who runs a tight ship, making for many comic interludes. After Deloris sneaks out to a nearby bar and almost gets caught by Curtis’ henchmen, Mother Superior requires Deloris to conform to the nuns’ routines (i.e. arise at 5:00 am; fasting and no alcohol) and makes her join the church choir, which, like the church itself, has descended into a tired routine and is in danger of closing. This being a musical comedy, the outcome is predictable: Deloris takes over the choir and makes it into an overnight sensation, attracting both increased contributions and attention (including a visit from the Pope!), thereby simultaneously saving the church and endangering herself. Curtis and his henchmen invade the church and track down Deloris, but the nuns surround and protect her until the police can arrive and arrest them. In the end, Deloris has to make a choice between her career and her devotion to her new friends, the nuns.



Those familiar with the film will find the stage version somewhat different: the venue has been changed from Reno and San Francisco to Philadelphia, and the time from the 1990’s to the 1970’s. These changes called for new music, which was provided by Oscar and Tony-award winning composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and includes elements of disco, psychedelic soul and funk. Although this is not Mr. Menken’s most memorable opus, Mr. Slater’s lyrics and the new book, by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner really carry the show.


As mentioned, this is a rousing production. The cast and crew are all outstanding, with star turns from Ms. Washington, channeling Diana Ross as Deloris; Ms. McConnell, as Mother Superior, lamenting changing times and tastes in “Haven’t Got a Prayer”; Ken Jennings, as the Monsignor, literally dancing in the aisles as the church’s fortunes improve with the exploits of the new choir; Jayson Elliott, who brings the house down, as Joey, performing a Full Monte-type number, “Lady in the Long Black Dress”; Lani Corson, as junior postulate Mary Robert, who is inspired by Deloris to question authority and make her own choices “The Life I Never Led”; and  Mr. Wilfred, converting from nerdy police officer, “Sweaty Eddie,” to “Cool” Eddie -- and back again -- in the space of one number, “I Could Be That Guy,” during which he does three costume changes in full view of the audience. That number is worth the price of admission alone.  But this is not a show consisting of solo numbers. Director/choreographer Donna Drake creates several ensemble numbers utilizing the considerable talents of the entire cast, as well as the unique attributes of the theater, itself, including a Dreamgirls-like opening number wherein Deloris rises from beneath the front of the stage, as well as the circular lift in the center of the stage, in later numbers.


Not to be overlooked is the set design and lighting by WBT regulars Steve Loftus and Andres Gmoser, respectively; musical direction by Bob Bray; and the outstanding costumes by Heather Carey, encompassing Deloris’ diva costumes in the opening, Sweaty Eddie’s on-stage costume changes in the aforementioned “I Could Be That Guy,” as well as the more “sedate” outfits of the nuns and Monsignor. Indeed, this reviewer could not believe how many different habits could be worn by the nuns: as the choir became more and more famous, each scene revealed newer – and glitzier -- habits!


In short, those in need of spiritual uplift should come to the newest church in Town: the Chapel of Soul, otherwise known as the Westchester Broadway Theatre. In fact, don’t wait until a night performance; come, as I did, to the Sunday morning service. You will leave the service smiling, happy, . . . and full (you get fed, too)!


All sinners are invited to see Sister Act until July 1st 2018 at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY.

Box Office: (914) 592-2222.