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Theater Review: Sister Act- A Divine Musical

PC: Jack Grace
Perhaps the biggest compliment I could David Ward’s production of “Sister Act- A Divine Musical” at the top of this review is that it’s much better than the source material. This musical adaptation of the wildly popular and kinda-good 1992 blockbuster film comedy lacks Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimy. There were a few times during  this stage show when I thought of their performances as the main characters. Otherwise, it’s a movie I am otherwise not fond of (seriously, “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” is much, much better). Ward’s show may lack movie stars, but it sports a talented ensemble cast, lots of big laughs and soaring musical numbers. This Seabury Hall high school theater event may tell a familiar story but it’s a surprisingly potent musical, performed with gusto and staged with professionalism and style.

Kela Rothstein stars as Deloris Van Cartier, a club singer who goes into hiding after witnessing a murder. With the mob in pursuit, Deloris turns to Eddy (Zander Medrano), an old friend and Philadelphia cop, for help. Eddy places Deloris in a convent, under the care of Mother Superior (Nanea Haynes). Deloris’ wild ways and flamboyant approach to singing and the daily rituals of living in a convent immediately get her in trouble. While Deloris connects the fire within her and with inspires the sisters to bring passion and soul to their performing styles, the sleazy killers she alluded inch closer to finding her.

PC: Jack Grace

In the pivotal lead, Rothstein is a plucky delight with a strong voice. She has the required amount of charisma and fire to pull off the role and is supported by her exceptional troupe of golden-voiced co-stars. Haynes is excellent, as she nails her role and a beautiful solo number in the second act. Medrano is another standout, utterly committed in an amusingly ridiculous role. Of the many stand-outs in the large cast, Jena Mukai, Hiwa Greig, Camille Erdman, Milena LeMonica and Lyle O’Leary are all a riot as the sisters. The mobsters on Deloris’ trail are embodied by Kalan Birnie, Carver Glomb, Carl Molinero,  and Jacob Keyser, all shining as villains both menacing and hilariously incompetent. There’s also fun moments from Mark Brocklehurst and local acting treasure Vinnie Linares, giving a vigorous turn as the Monsignor.

A great touch is that none of the songs from the movie are present. Gone are the cheesy Gospel do-over’s of Motown classics. In their place are such winners as “Raise Your Voice,” the hilarious “It’s Good To Be A Nun,” and a solo number, “The Life I Never Led.”

PC: Jack Grace

Ward’s tight direction keeps the production moving briskly and establishes a persistent, madcap tone. There are some striking stage pictures created here, as the vibrant costumes by Vanessa Cerrito and Andre Morissette and sets by Todd Van Amburgh give the show a welcome sense of scale and beauty. The orchestra, vigorously conducted by Molly Schad, is excellent and provides a full bodied sound.

I frequently forgot I was watching a high school production and found myself thoroughly involved and delighted. The first act builds the premise nicely, while the second act stacks one knockout musical number after another.

PC: Jack Grace

It’s not just the nuns who get all the laughs, as a funny cluster of male performers manage to steal a handful of scenes. I won’t describe it but the tear-the-roof-off funniest sequence involves a cluster of mobsters getting their own, especially unique musical number. I laughed so hard, it momentarily put me in hysterics.

While “Sister Act- A Divine Musical” is easy to recommend, it should be noted that the humor has an edge. There a few off-color lines and risqué moments that will, presumably, go over the heads of the young ones. This otherwise family-friendly show has some PG-13-level content, which is less a warning than a reminder to cover Grandma’s eyes and ears during a few brief moments.

PC: Jack Grace

There is a genuine compassion and warmth to this show. I’ve suffered through an awful lot of dumb musicals (namely, anything with the word “Nunsense” in the title) that basically portray women of habit as either wacky buffoons or abusive monsters. It’s refreshing to see the portrait of sisterhood and the extended family on view here. The jokes may have more bite than expected and some of this plays like a broad farce but there is a meaningful message of embracing who you truly are and finding a community who supports and loves you.

I really don’t care if I ever see the movie “Sister Act” again but this musical is worth going out of your way to experience. The cast rises to the occasion and the songs will stay with you and dance in your mind on the drive home. When a musical can make me laugh this hard and give me chicken skin during the dramatic highs, who needs movie stars?

Sister Act: A Divine New Musical is showing November 4-5th, 11-12th at 7pm and on Sundays Nov 6th and 11th at 3pm. Tickets are available at the box office and by going to [email protected]



About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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