AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Gene Slater
Book by Cheri Steinkellner & Bill Steinkellner
Additional Book Material by Douglas Carter Beane
Based on the Touchstone Pictures Motion picture, “Sister Act” by Joseph Howard
Directed & Choreographed by Richard Stafford
Walnut Street Theatre
Closed July 17, 2016

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Put on your angel wings and fly on down to theWalnut Street Theatre to catch this divine production of Sister Act which runs now through July 17th.

Based on the hit 1992 film comedy of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg, the musical premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in October 24, 2006, closed on December 23, 2006 and broke all box office records. It then went on to London where the 2009 West End production was produced by Stage Entertainment, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael Reno. Whoopi Goldberg was also a producer of the 2011 Broadway adaptation which ran until 2012. Since then there have been myriad other productions around the globe and no wonder. The music by Alan Menken simply soars, the lyrics by Gene Slater are funny and clever and the book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner is hysterical.

Taking place in Philadelphia in 1978, up and coming singer, Deloris Van Cartier runs afoul of her gangster/manager boyfriend, Curtis, when she witnesses a murder that he commits. Running to the cops for protection, ex-high school classmate, Eddie Souther, who is now a cop, places Deloris in the witness protection program, hiding her in a convent under the care of Mother Superior. Though at first horrified that she cannot wear her own clothes, drink, smoke or leave the premises, Deloris finds solace in leading the convent choir. She does such a good job that attendance at the failing church quadruples and lands the sisters on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This catches the eye of Curtis who sends his three henchmen to the convent to rub out Deloris. But a chase ensues with a heavenly conclusion.

The show starts off with a great tune, Take Me to Heaven which Deloris sings while auditioning for her manager, Curtis. This song is then reprised at the end of Act I – with a twist – as it is now sung by Deloris and her fellow Sisters in the convent at Mass. It’s followed up by Deloris’s “I Want” Song, Fabulous Baby where she pours out her dreams of fame and glamour. Curtis along with his three henchmen, Joey, Pablo and TJ gets to sing When I Find My Baby. This is a tongue in cheek play on a love song wherein Curtis recounts a list of what he is going to do to Deloris when he finds her. The list contains all horrible manners of death for the poor Deloris. Meek, little, novitiate, Sister Mary Robert, gets to belt out The Life I Never Led, a song questioning her decision to be a nun. And the signature song of the show is Raise Your Voice a pulsating paean to the glory of song where Deloris and the Sisters get to really raise the roof.

Dan’Yelle Williamson is, as the song states, simply, “Fabulous, Baby!” as Deloris Van Cartier. Her voice can soar and thrill (Fabulous Baby, Raise Your Voice) as well as sweetly soothe (Bless Our Show, Sister Act). Her comic timing is spot on and her stage presence glows with true star quality. But she achieves this by making us believe she is really Deloris, an aspiring disco singer with big dreams. Phillip Michael Baskerville is deliciously evil as boyfriend Curtis with a deep, resonant baritone voice. Kent Overshown is adorable as Eddie Souther, the shy cop who’s afraid to shoot his gun. Still madly in love with Deloris, he gets to sing out his heart in I Could Be That Guy with an ultra-smooth tenor. Mary Martello doesn’t miss a beat as the wry, sober, Mother Superior. Tiny Laura Giknis belts out The Life I Never Led, like nobody’s business as Sister Mary Robert. Justin Keyes as TJ, one of Curtis’s henchmen displays a standout voice. Ron Wisniski chews up the scenery as a very funny Monsignor O’Hara and the ensemble of Sisters are all funny to a woman.

The show moves along with beautiful pacing by Director Richard Stafford and though the choreography is very 70’s and a lot of fun, sometimes it distracts focus from the main action. Though it’s a great trick to see Eddie Souther have his clothes ripped off twice (from a cop uniform to a white disco outfit – back to his cop clothes) during his song, “I Could Be That Guy”, it’s completely gratuitous. All Mr. Overshown needs is a spotlight and he will deliver the goods.

The costumes by Gail Baldoni are loud, luscious and luxurious and the ten piece orchestra conducted by Douglass G. Lutz is, once again, exciting to listen to.

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