by Terrance Mc Arthur
I first saw Camille Gaston on my computer, laughing a lot as Brandon Delsid’s sidekick on the Basically Brandon webcast. Then, I started noticing her onstage in supporting parts that attracted attention. She was Scuttle the Seagull in The Little Mermaid, the Witch in Big Fish in Selma, and the Acid Queen in The Who’s Tommy. Now, she takes center stage as Deloris Van Cartier in the Good Company Players production of Sister Act, and she commands attention in the role. Give it to her. She deserves it.Sister Act is a musical adapted from the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy film of a Vegas singer who witnesses her gangster boyfriend kill an employee, and is put into witness protection…as a nun. The stage version, transplanted to a Philadelphia setting, sports music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid), lyrics by Glenn Slater (School of Rock), and a script by Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner, and Douglas Carter Beane.
Gaston develops sympathy as the wisecracking wannabe diva who finds herself a fish out of water when she tries to fit in with the restrictions and requirements of life in Holy Orders. She can rip it up in a disco style in “Take Me to Heaven,” go high-octane gospel, bust audience guts with laughter during a mangled attempt at prayer, and get cathartic on the title tune, as she finally gets what being a nun is all about. Gaston belongs in this part. She can do it, and she does it.
Jesse McCoy has played some sleazy characters in his time, but Curtis Jackson may top them all. The sleazy criminal leads Deloris on with promises he’ll never keep, kills suspected stool pigeons, and is perfectly willing to violate the sanctity of a convent. McCoy oozes across the stage as a polyester-clad snake, turns “When I find My Baby” from a song of searching for a lost love to a crooned litany of ways to kill her, and he deserves any punishments he can get.
Manuel “Lex” Martin portrays Eddie, the police detective who puts Deloris in protective custody, an old school chum with a long-standing crush. His “I Could Be That Guy” is filled with emotion and backed by a chorus of street people.
Cori Randolph’s theatrical debut as the Mother Superior is crusty, inflexible, and endearing. Her “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” lands somewhere between “What Do You Do With a Problem Called Maria” and Bye Bye Birdie’s “Kids” lament, with a touch of Henry Higgins on the side. Here’s hoping her first show won’t be her last.
Bubbling along in the footsteps of the film’s Kathy Najimi, Ethel Birrell is an explosion of enthusiasm. As the shy nun-to-be who comes out of her shell, Dorie Sanders powers up “The Life I Never Led” into a manifesto of self-determination not to be missed. Julie Andrews as the pushed-aside choir leader moves from grumpy to supportive at the speed of laughter.
The inept henchmen chasing Deloris (Liam Olson, Christopher Hoffman, Nicholas Nunez) provide Three Stooges slapstick and a “I’m laughing at that?” moment as they practice come-on lines to nuns (“Lady in the Long Black Dress”).
The choir of nuns is loaded with some power players covered up by their habits, including Janet Glaude as a pianist with mild dementia. Charles Rabb artfully manages to transform his character from a mild-mannered monsignor to a party-priest disc Jockey, reaching into his inner Wolfman Jack.
Who else but Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed could give us costumes with 70s kitsch and nun habits with a touch of glam? Vocal coach Judith Dickison creates a musical aggregation that blends pop and prayer. Laurie Pessano’s direction is all you expect from Pessano, Incorporated: sure-footed, inventive, and scattered with I-get-that moments.
Whatever faith (or lack of) you profess, get into the processional that leads to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre for a laugh-filled, pulse-pounding, spiritual experience.
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