Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Opens Its Season With "Sister Act" - Hallelujah!

The 2015 season for Ogunquit Playhouse got off to a rollicking start with the very entertaining "Sister Act," which will run through June 20.  You may know the set up of the story from the film version starring Whoopi Goldberg.  Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer, inadvertently witnesses her underworld boyfriend carrying out a gangland execution, so she must go into hiding until he goes to trial.  She takes refuge in a convent, assuming the alias of "Sister Mary Clarence," but she shakes things up so much that she might as well have been called "Sister Mary Vesuvius."  She and the Mother Superior clash from the very beginning.as Deloris adds some soul and some pop to the nun's singing, and the Mother Superior is appalled.

Director Stephen Beckler has assembled a terrific creative team and cast, and the audience roared its approval at every opportunity.Set Designer Adam Koch has created an elegant set with multiple moving parts that allow the stage to serve as a church, a disco lounge, a cloister and a cold water flat. Erin Henry's choreography is dazzling and entertaining, enabling the once staid nuns to "get down"! Music Director Brent-Alan Huffman leads  a 7-piece ensemble that fills the performance space with waves of sounds upon which the performers surf with delight and abandon.  Lighting by Richard Latta, Sound by Jeremy Oleksa and glittery costumes by Dustin Cross complete the creation of an environment in which the actors thrive in telling this tale of two women who begin poles apart and meet in the middle, with everyone in between feeling the heat and light of their passion.

The cast is first rate from the lowest postulant to the lordly Monsignor.

  • Deloris Van Cartier is played by the superbly talented Rashidra Scott.  She brings her Broadway and national tour experience to this production, and she is at the top of her game in terms of her singing and acting.  Her transformation from an ambitious show business denizen to one who feels a loyalty and solidarity with the nuns in the convent is a convincing arc that is both entertaining and moving.  Her vocal skills shine through in her rendition of "Take Me To Heaven" and the title number, "Sister Act."\
Jennifer Allen as Mother Superior
"Sister Act"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through June 20

  • As Mother Superior, Broadway veteran Jennifer Allen is simply heavenly.  Her vocal talent is prodigious, but her facial expressions are the icing on the cake as she is caught between her rigid and traditional faith and the Monsignor's insistence that she harbor Deloris to bring in some money to keep the doors of the struggling parish open.  She owns the stage when she sings the hilarious "Haven't Got A Prayer."
  • As Deloris' shady boyfriend, Curtis Jackson, Apollo Levine is appropriately intimidating as he instructs his gang of hoods to find and silence Deloris.  His moment to stand out vocally occurs when he and his henchmen sing "When I Find My Baby."
  • The trio of thugs is played in wonderfully over-the-top style by three fine actors - Chris Cooke as Joey, Tyler Simahk as Pablo and Avionce as TJ.  Regular readers of The White Rhino Report may recognize the name of Mr. Simahk, for I recently reviewed his star turn in the Emerson Stage production of "Merrily We Roll Along.  "Sister Act" represents his first professional engagement since graduating a few weeks ago from Emerson College.
Avionce as TJ
Apollo Levnie as Curtis
Tyler Simahk as Pablo
Chris Cooke as Joey
"Sister Act"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through June 20

  • The role of "Sweaty Eddie" is played with great swagger and attitude by Dashaun Young.  As a police officer, he is trying to save Deloris while secretly in love with her.  He expresses his feelings for her in the song "I Could Be That Guy."
  • Blake Hammond is a cherubic and playful Monsignor O'Hara.  His character is called upon to often pour oil upon troubled waters and to mediate between Deloris and Mother Superior.
  • The chorus of nuns and acolytes is played by a gifted ensemble, composed of Meryn Beckett, Lexi Lyric, Madge Dietrich, Rashad Guy, Joe Meallo, Julia Mosby, Michelle Rombola, Amy Persons, Heather Jane Rolff, Natalie Storrs, Zuri Washington and Bridget Elise Yingling.
  • Three nuns in particular stand out from the crowd for their memorable characters and bravura performances.  As timid postulant, Sister Mary Robert, Celeste Rose goes through a wonderful transformation from wallflower to a rose in full bloom as she stands up to Mother Superior in support of Deloris.  Her solo, "The Life I Never Led," is a highlight of this production. Dierdra Friel is Sister Mary Patrick, a role made iconic in the film by Kathy Najimy.  Ms. Friel channels that same sense of  helpless and silly enthusiasm and wins over not only Deloris but the entire audience with her performance.  As the almost fossilized Sister Mary Lazarus, Tina Johnson takes her character on an unlikely journey.  She begins the show as the inept choir director, mired in tradition and mediocrity.  She comes bursting out of that tomb into a new life as a hip and glitter-wearing devotee of Deloris's new way of worshiping.  Hers is performance for the ages..
Rashidra Scott as Deloris Van Cartier
Ensemble of Sisters
"Sister Act"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through June 20

This thoroughly delightful show will run only through June 20, so put your money in the collection plate and make your way to the temporary parish on Route 1 in Ogunquit. You will find it "mass-ively" inspiring..



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