Over the last few decades there has been a heavy emphasis on turning hit movies into Broadway musicals, with the urgency turned up in recent years.
Spamalot, Aladdin, Newsies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Lion King, Mama Mia, Xanadu, The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, The Producers, Hairspray, Beetlejuice, Tootsie, Groundhog’s Day, Rocky, and Pretty Woman are just a small sampling of films that have been adapted as stage musicals.
There is no doubt that adapting a known movie title can be highly lucrative. The stage adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King has surpassed $850 million in cumulative gross Broadway box office receipts.
As long as ticket buyers are willing to shell out money to see Broadway adaptations of hit films, the trend will continue. Afterall, the entertainment business is a business.
FROM SCREEN TO STAGE
There are some stage adaptations that are remarkable – The Lion King being an easy example to point to. Others struggle to make the leap from screen to stage.
Sister Act began life as a 1992 comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg. It was extremely successful at the box office, grossing over $231 million worldwide. It also spawned a successful film sequel in 1993. A third film has been in development as a Disney+ project with Goldberg again starring and as many of the original cast as possible returning. It is being produced by Goldberg and Tyler Perry.
The stage musical Sister Act was first presented in Pasadena, California in 2006. It features music by legendary composer Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. The two also collaborated on the stage adaptations of Leap of Faith and Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Sister Act then made its West End debut in 2009. A highly rewritten version then premiered on Broadway in 2011. It earned five Tony award nominations including Best Musical.
The musical features a book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane. The writers took great liberties with the story and characters including setting the musical in 1978.
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in downtown Arlington Heights now brings the musical Sister Act to the greater Chicagoland area with a spirited, high-energy production under the direction of Sade’ May.
The story follows Deloris Van Cartier, a dreamer who hopes her married boyfriend Curtis Jackson will let her launch her singing career at his nightclub. When Deloris accidentally witnesses her lover commit a murder, she fears for her life and goes to the police. There she runs into a old high school classmate who has become a police officer.
Sweaty Eddie, as she playfully called him in school, puts Deloris in witness protection until she can testify. Her hiding destination? The last place a criminal would look, a convent. While in hiding she makes true friends with the nuns and together they learn to make beautiful music together.
In the central character of Deloris, the Metropolis production stars Natalie “Nat” Renee Savoy. Savoy is an extremely talented dancer, a good actress, and a solid singer. Savoy delivers an excellent performance, and does the role justice.
The Mother Superior of the convent that is hiding Deloris is played by Lauren Miller. Miller is a veteran of Metropolis and turns in a very strong performance. Her characterization radiates a certain level of truth.
Also bringing authenticity to their characters are Natalie Henry as Sister Mary Patrick and understudy Athena Kopulos as Sister Mary Robert. Henry’s bubbly demeanor and ear-to-ear grin is somewhat reminiscent of the character Crazy Eyes as played by Uzo Abuda on Orange is the New Black. Considering Abuda won an Emmy for that role, it’s a high compliment.
As youthful Sister Mary Robert, Kopulos is fueled by a phenomenal singing voice. Kupolos delivers a moving portrait of a young woman trying to decide where her place is in life. Kupolos easily maneuvers her character between comedic and dramatic moments. She is simply wonderful.
Officer Sweaty Eddie is not your typical romantic hero. He’s constantly nervous and full of self-doubt. Eddie is played by Kedar Miller. While his lines are delivered with hushed, quiet demeanor, Miller is able to up the energy when he starts to sing. One just wishes there was more chemistry between Eddie and Deloris.
Bad guy Curtis is played with gusto by Jonathan Cortez. Cortez has fun in the role, giving his character a psychotic element. He has a wonderful baritone voice and an evil laugh that had the audience playfully booing him in recognition for his excellence in being devilish. Cortez is a talented guy and is one of the shining elements of the Metropolis production.
No musical comedy bad guy is complete without a group of witless henchmen. Curtis’ band of Keystone Cop ruffians are played by Justin Ramirez (TJ), Henry Allan (Pablo), and human tree Bob Hussey (Joey). This odd assortment of misfits combines for some good laughs.
Michelle Tribble provides some fun comedic moments as gravel-voiced Sister Mary Lazarus. She totally wins over the audience when she raps and moonwalks. Christopher Johnson is excellent as Monsignor O’Hara, his acting style is a lesson in subtlety.
Also deserving a shoutout is ensemble member Brenden Zwiebel. Zwiebel plays at least a half dozen different characters, and looks to be having the time of his life – which is infectious. You can’t help but enjoy his performance.
FUN & ENJOYABLE
The score is fun and enjoyable, although you don’t leave the show with any one song stuck in your head. Music direction is exceptionally well done by DeMario Tribett. The harmonies by the nuns are incredible. The band is conducted seamlessly by Elliot Bell.
In terms of staging, the high-energy dance numbers choreographed by Jen Cupani are a delight. However, there are a number of songs performed without choreography where more use of the full stage could be beneficial.
As wonderful as the talented cast is, there were some technical missteps with this production opening weekend. I have every faith that these can get fixed for the enjoyment of future audiences.
Scenic design by Jenna Houck is impressive. Costume design is by Sara Morrison. Property design is by Patrick McGuire. Lighting design is by Christopher Moore II. Technical director is David Moreland.
Sister Act is a fun show. The Metropolis cast of Sister Act brings the story to life with some incredible energy, enjoyable dance moves, catchy music, and divine harmonies.
Sister Act is recommended for audiences 13 and up. It runs through August 27, 2022 at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. The theatre is located at 111 West Campbell Street in the Northwest Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. The theatre is easily accessible by car or Metra. For ticket information visit www.MetropolisArts.com or call the box office at (847) 577-2121.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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