At Raleigh Little Theatre’s charming ‘Sister Act,’ you’ll find humor, and heart

Within the hilarious storyline about a disco diva in witness protection at a convent, there are clap-your-hands gospel numbers and a heart-warming story of self-discovery in the musical, "Sister Act," based on the popular film.Areon Mobasher

When Raleigh Little Theatre puts on musicals these days, it inevitably has to add extra performances, because the production’s consistency of talent and presentation means regular sell-outs. Sometimes, as with its current staging of “Sister Act,” it even has to add performances before the show opens.

So, if you’re reading this and have already been thinking of going, stop now to see whether tickets remain, or you’ll likely be shut out.

This musicalization by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater of the popular 1992 movie works better than many such attempts because singing is at the heart of the story. The plot still follows lounge singer Deloris, who’s in a witness protection programs in a convent. There, she clashes with the Mother Superior over spartan rules and conditions. But when Deloris takes over the hapless convent choir and turns it into a first-rate gospel ensemble, she bonds with the sisters and eventually with the Mother Superior.

The production’s extremely likable cast is headed by Tyanna West’s spunky Deloris and Alison Lawrence’s stern Mother Superior. Both have strong voices and expert comic timing, their constant battles providing the show’s biggest laughs. Among the dozen convent sisters, Kathy Day’s sarcastic Mary Lazarus, Kimberly Genna Bryant’s exuberant Mary Patrick and Averi Zimmermann’s shy Mary Robert offer lovable characterizations and formidable vocals.

The male contingent is led by Benaiah Barnes’ winning portrayal of Deloris’ love interest, officer Eddie, whose “I Could Be That Guy” earns a well-deserved ovation. Tony Hefner’s mild-mannered Monsignor O’Hara makes a hilarious transformation into the choir’s emcee, one of Hefner’s best roles. JaJuan Cofield projects the cold-heartedness of Deloris’ gangster boyfriend Curtis, both in dialog and song.

Director Nancy Rich knows how to find the humor and the heart of each scene and gives the sisters some great Busby Berkeley-style choreography. Music director Michael Santangelo’s vibrant 10-piece orchestra beautifully supports the singers, intimately or boisterously as needed.

The sheer number of Vicki Olson’s costumes, especially for the evermore glittering choir, is quite impressive, backed by Thomas Mauney’s many pleasing, if sometimes too flimsy, settings.

Some of opening night’s tentative pacing and under-rehearsed routines should be corrected by now. But any quibbles are easily swept away by the production’s welcoming warmth, providing two and a half hours of genuine communal spirit.

“Sister Act”

Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 30-31, Sept. 1, 6-9; 3 p.m. Aug 26, Sept. 2, 9
Tickets: $22-$26
Info: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org

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