note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Question - how many times can you see the musical comedy “Sister Act” without its losing its appeal? If it’s the production appearing at Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre through Nov. 15, starring the incomparable Jeannette Bayardelle, the answer is, not enough. In lead role Deloris (nee’ Carter) Van Cartier, Bayardelle is spectacular, saucy, sexy, and surprisingly sisterly, during her transformation from a showgirl having an affair with a married, dangerous criminal and her seeking refuge from him in a convent.
There’s no escape from the play’s excitement and fun, especially after Deloris witnesses Curtis shooting a double-crossing mobster in the head at point-blank range. Deloris goes to the cops, to seek help, but encounters Curtis and the guys there. She tries to convince him she won’t squeal on him. But he’s ruthless.
Portraying Curtis, Jonathan Kirkland isn’t a comic criminal. He’s a killer. Although he enjoys Deloris’ company, he makes his point clear in song “When I Find My Baby” and its Act II reprise. He’s going to kill her.
“Sister Act’s” shady story isn’t scary, though. It’s riotous, especially with this superb cast of saints and sinners. Every mobster, nun, and star is terrific, divinely inspired. Before the show begins, several “nuns” chat with theatergoers, welcoming them. Liturgical-style organ music sets the tone, and designer Nate Bertone establishes an overall church-like setting with stained glass windows, stone arches, a confessional stand, and liturgical props that readily transform into a neighborhood bar, via stage elevated floor lifts, etc.
Deloris’ unlikely savior turns out to be police officer Eddie Souther (terrific Kyle Robert Carter), whom she remembers in school as “Sweaty Eddie”. He had a big crush on her growing up, and still does. Eddie is self-conscious, timid around Deloris. He also doesn’t carry a gun, but that’s okay - for now. He knows the perfect place to hide Deloris for 30 days - a church-convent. But Eddie doesn’t know the financially-challenged church is about to be sold to two developers.
Deloris also irritates stolid Mother Superior, whose myriad of Marys don’t sound like a heavenly chorus when they sing. Not until they meet flamboyant Deloris, who’s passed off as new nun Sister Clarence. She upsets the peace and sanctity of the convent with her worldly demeanor and jazzy musical approach, leading the nuns’ chorus. Deloris gets her comeuppance when Mother Superior lays down the law in song, “Here Within These Walls”.
Director Kevin P. Hill has created some footloose and fancy choreography, as the nuns jazz up their tone deaf hymns to rapping in the aisles, on stage and platforms near the audience. Their voices and joy emanate throughout the theater, as they spread the love of God to rapturous parishioners (theatergoers). And Music Director Andrew Bryan and his marvelous musicians are fantastic throughout.
Deloris’ free-wheeling demeanor and escapades, in cognito, has a profound effect on young, shy postulant Mary Robert, who questions taking her final vows. Portraying Mary Robert, Lael Van Keuren’s stunning voice raises the roof with her moving plea, “The Life I Never Led”.
The nuns are exuberant, their habits adorned with brocade, and later glitter, (kudos, designer-costume coordinator Paula Peasley-Ninestein) as their fame spreads. Crowds gather to rejoice with effusive Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) and the singing nuns, rocking the church to its rafters in Deloris‘ swinging song, “Take Me to Heaven”.
Monsignor O’Hara thinks the chorus is divine and gets his groove on, too. The swinging nuns’ notoriety saves the church from being sold and converted to a housing development.
But Mother Superior is horrified, convinced Deloris is destroying the church’s sanctity, and wants her out of there. The tug of war/personality clash between Deloris and Mother Superior is classic traditionalism vs. modernity, and these two fine actresses, Bayardelle and Ellen Harvey, brilliantly rise to the task.
Harvey’s rich voice punctuates Mother Superior’s chagrin in song, “I Haven’t Got a Prayer”. Their ultimate embrace is touching.
This feel-good show ends on a joyous note, with rollicking finale “Spread the Love Around”. But what about Curtis? Does Deloris join the convent? Are she and Eddie together? For a super-good time, see “Sister Act”.
BOX INFO: Two-act, musical comedy, “Sister Act,” new music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn slater, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, appearing at Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through Nov. 15: Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $54-$79; kids 18-under, 50 percent discount, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. Call 978-272-2300, or visit www.nsmt.org.