Deloris Van Cartier (Cynthia Martells) meets with nuns in the Sacred Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith during the FRT production of “Sister Act.” (Courtesy of Cleo Z. DeOrio)
Ferndale Rep’s sophomore production of 2023 is a playful return to his production of animated musicals with “Sister Act,” a musical comedy based on the wildly popular 1992 film, set to catchy 1978 disco-era music created by Alan Menkin and lyrics by Glenn Slater. .
While not quite the same as the movie, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner’s book of the show (with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane) follows the basic plot closely, with equally entertaining results. (Although some embarrassing comments about women in general and some other offensive and throwaway terms of the time definitely date it for today’s audiences.)
And that plotline, of course, involves what happens to aspiring disco diva singer Deloris Van Cartier (Cynthia Martells) after performing with her two showgirls, Michelle (Olivia Obidah) and Tina (Kerry McNamee) at a nightclub. from Philadelphia. (on her birthday) owned by her married gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (Rigel Schmidt).
She hopes that he will finally make sure that she gets a “record deal”. It’s not happening. He even gives her a coat named after her wife, before she accidentally sees him “eliminate” a suspected “police informant.” This also means that she is now “blacklisted” from him, so Deloris goes into hiding, then heads to the police station for protection.
Fortunately, the cop on duty turns out to be Lt. Eddie Souther (Warren Hardison), an old acquaintance of Deloris’s in high school, who had an unrequited crush on her at the time. So, she can convince him to put her in a “witness protection site” before Curtis (or one of her “her boys” of hers) kills her.
However, she is far from thrilled with the safe space he chose to hide her for now. It is a convent called The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith (soon to be closed due to lack of support from potential neighborhood members who do not attend the convent’s affiliated church led by Monsignor O’Hara (David Simms ).
And Mother Superior (Meighan O’Brien) is definitely even less thrilled to have her, but only if she “pretends” to be a nun named Mary Clarence, dresses like one, and behaves like one. (Good luck with that on an ongoing basis during your enforced stay out of the woods.)
Quick plot synopsis: Deloris temporarily “misleads” the other nuns about who she really is and still manages to “misbehave” and get herself and two nuns, Sister Mary Robert (Dominica Savant-Bunch) and sister Mary Patrick (Lillian Damron), get in trouble (for going to the bar across the street).
Mother Superior also reluctantly “gives permission” to “save” the terrible choir by “teaching them to sing in tune.” But she, too, has them “singing disco-style worship songs” that soon bring money to church collection plates. However, when they are noticed and appear on local TV, Curtis and her gang spot her, and he sets out to “get rid of her before she screams” and is locked up for murder.
Naturally, all of the above action is loaded with plenty of pre-recorded songs (no live band) sung at the top of their lungs by all the featured actors/singers in the cast while doing some disco dance moves. And, while some of the singers are obviously not always “vocally comfortable” singing in the stone-carved keys of their recorded, unalterable numbers, they always sing it to the best of their ability. Some are truly outstanding when they perform in their personal, vocal wheelhouse and when the ensemble sings the big group numbers together, they really raise the roof “to the sky.”
The titles of some of the songs give clues as to what the characters might be doing: “Fabulous Baby!”, “Behind These Walls,” “How I Got Called,” “When I Find My Baby,” “It Could Be That Guy”, “Take Me to Heaven”, “The Life I Never Led”, “I Have No Prayer” and, naturally, “Sister Act”.
The entertaining cast also includes Elaine Yslas as Sister Mary Lazarus; Jennifer Miles as Sister Mary Theresa; Bao Syphanthong as Sister Maria of Tours; Brandy Rose as Sister Mary Irene; Jessy McQuade as Sister Mary Celeste; and Melissa Ansley, McNamee, and Obidah as other nuns.
Rounding out the energetic ensemble as members of Curtis’s sleazy gang are Landen Olson as TJ; Taylor Yslas as Pablo; Austin Maisler as Joey; and Mychal Evanson as Ernie. James Morris is a police officer/joint; and Moss Nipkau supports Ensemble.
Produced by Cleo Z. DeOrio, the show was directed and choreographed by Craig Benson, with musical direction by David Powell; and the technical director was Carl N. McGahan.
The abstract scenic design was created by Jaiden Clark, with scenic painting by Carin Billings. The lighting was designed by Calder Johnson; sound designed by Tammy Rae Scott; Alyssa Plante estate; wardrobe by Deirdre Bise; and the stage direction was in charge of Anna Gillespe, assisted by Neri Traugot (who also served as intimacy coordinator).
“Sister Act” offers a “rousing parody” of musical fun on Ferndale Rep that continues with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through April 23.
Tickets are $18 overall; $16 for students (15 year old college) and seniors; and $10 for youth (3-14). A $2 Historic Buildings Preservation Fee is also added to each ticket purchased. Purchase them by calling the box office at 1-707-786-5483; going to www.ferndalerep.org; or on site at the box office 30 minutes before the curtain.
The venue is located at 447 Main St. in Ferndale. Masks are not required, but are highly recommended.