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“Sister Act” presented by Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theatre, Royal Oak MI

Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)

and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

Photo by Lance Luce

Ami McClenon

“Sister Act” Offers Strong Performances, Silly Hijinks

Stagecrafters celebrates the 62nd season of performances on their Main Stage with a popular musical comedy, “Sister Act”. While it’s not high art (and doesn’t pretend to be), it’s high-spirited, great fun and showcases the fine caliber of our local talent.

Based on the hit 1992 comedy film of the same name starring Whoopie Goldberg, the musical “Sister Act” had its record-breaking premiere in Pasadena, California in 2006. Alan Menken, known for scoring Disney films like “The Little Mermaid” and Broadway hits like “Little Shop of Horrors” wrote the music with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The screenplay was adapted into a book for the stage by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. It went on to hugely successful productions in London in 2009, and on Broadway in 2011.

While the story for the stage version follows pretty much the same line as the movie, the music is entirely original. Set in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, there’s disco (and a disco ball!), funk, gospel, Motown and everything in between to help tell the story of Doris van Cartier, a nightclub singer on the run from her gangster boyfriend Curtis. She ends up hiding out in a convent and teaching the choir how to sing. In the process, Doris, and the nuns whose lives she touches, learn something about themselves, and about life, with plenty of slapstick humor and touching moments.

The Stagecrafters production may not have a professional cast, but the quality of some of the performances is superb nonetheless. Local actress and singer Amie McClenon is pure dynamite and owns the lead role of Doris. She delivers a star turn with her powerful, top-notch vocals and commanding stage presence. Excellent support is provided by Valerie Mould as the beleaguered Mother Superior and Katherine Stewart-Hoffman as the always-perky Sister Mary Patrick. Another notable performance is by Kellie Kanfantaris as the painfully withdrawn Sister Mary Robert.

One of the most hysterically funny numbers in the show has to be “Lady in the Long Black Dress”.  During a recent evening performance, the audience shrieked with laughter as Cory Shorter, Jeff LaMothe and Ethan Torantino, playing Curtis’ goons, demonstrated their best pickup lines in story and song.

Lively direction by Rodel Salazar launches the action like a rocket with the strong opening number “Take Me to Heaven” and keeps it up right through to the finale. Choreography by Jerry Haines serves the music well. The sometimes-uneven performances of the ensemble cast come together in joyful noise when habit-clad nuns do Rockettes-style line kicks, and sashay across the stage to a disco beat. The capable 12-piece orchestra conducted by music director Randall Wrisinger keeps the energy high, although frustrating sound problems (scratchy mikes, fadeouts) cropped up a few too many times.

Even though “Sister Act” pokes gentle fun at nuns and church in general, it’s never disrespectful, and reinforces the sisters’ faith, leaving them happier and more fulfilled. Judging from the standing ovation and cheers at the end of the show, it would seem the audience felt that way, too.

When: Now through October 1, 2017

8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays

2:00 p.m. Sundays

Tickets $23 to $26.50

Where: Baldwin Theatre, Main Stage

415 S. Lafayette

Royal Oak, MI 48067

(248) 541-6430