Through Sunday, Sep. 9
Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh
Like the movie, Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Sister Act has a lot to offer: amazing vocals, show-stopping spectacle, and snappy comedy. Unfortunately, the script feels very much like it’s still meant for 1992 movie theater audiences. Many jokes feel outdated, if not offensive, and the constant location shifts that worked in the movie seem to overwhelm the production team.
Still, there are also some lovely innovations, like a vintage television set (complete with 1970s resolution) showing the nuns dancing on public access and Deloris (Tyanna West) playing with the acoustics of the church through Todd Houseknecht’s sound design. Thomas Mauney’s scenic design works best in concert with Elizabeth Grimes Droessler’s lighting. From the shimmering glitter curtains of a nightclub to the rope-light-illuminated shelf of liquor bottles at a sports bar to always-changing stained glass windows, the use of lights within the set creates a beautiful, layered effect. That said, perhaps due to the number of scenic changes, some of the set pieces look unfinished and flatly painted.
Sister Act’s strongest moments are in music director Michael Santangelo’s gorgeous songs and director Nancy Rich’s farcical choreographed moments. As Deloris, a character immortalized by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie, West is a consistent comedic and vocal force, bringing the house down with “Fabulous Baby!” and the title song. But “I Could Be that Guy,” performed by Benaiah Barnes as Eddie, is a highlight of the show, not only for being a rousing number, but also for costume designer Vicki Olson’s stunning RuPaul’s Drag Race-worthy onstage costume changes.
The weakest moments come in the timing: actors stumbling over key lines, awkward punchlines, and fight choreography that’s always a little off. The whole cast is strong musically, but outside of musical numbers, few are as strong as West, Barnes, and the comedically sharp Kimberly Genna Bryant as Sister Mary Patrick. In gun sequences, it’s hard to determine if and when people are being shot. In more standard fights, as when a man is knocked down with a cane, actors don’t vocally or physically react enough to sell it. The absence of a dedicated fight choreographer shows.
Overall, despite uneven performances and the difficulty of the script, Sister Act is habit-forming, a joy to watch. It’s very much a story about how art doesn’t have to be about prestige—that it can be about finding a community and making something beautiful, even if it’s a little imperfect.