The primary “lost chords” in the theatrical musical based on (and named after) the hit 1992 film “Sister Act” are the original pop songs which the primary character turned into pop hymns.
The South Bend Civic Theatre production, which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium, features an original score (mostly mediocre) by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater and a much-revised book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane.
The plot is much the same as the film with Danae Watson as aspiring lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, a role that, unfortunately for anyone who fills it, lies firmly in the shadow of the film’s star Whoopi Goldberg.
As it opens, Deloris is auditioning for a job in the club owned by her boyfriend gangster Curtis Jackson (Allen Roberts II). Angered by his dismissal, she goes to return his gift of a fur piece originally owned by his wife and, with unfortunate timing, witnesses his murder of an “associate” he believes talked about him to the police.
Immediately, Deloris is the object of a murderous search by Curtis and his gang — Joey (Annie Bretz), TJ (Brielle Hall) and Pablo (Cristian Marquez). She runs to the police and finds Lt. Eddie Souther (George Spohter), an old school friend, who immediately puts her in police protection — in a local convent.
She is as unhappy to be there as the Mother Superior (Patty Noonan) is to have her. As Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris is definitely a square peg in a round hole until she is assigned to the mostly out-of-tune convent choir.
With Sister Mary Patrick (Laura Martin), novice Sister Mary Robert (Erin Joines) and current choir leader Sister Mary Lazarus (Connie Chalko), she trains the sisters to sing in tune and in time and they soon add an up-tempo hymn to their Sunday repertoire, much to the horror of the Mother Superior and the delight of Monsignor O’Hara (William Loring), who sees the choir’s new success as a way to revive the about-to-be-demolished church.
This is, indeed, where things look up in “Sister Act.” When the sisters raise their voices in song, the energy level goes heaven-ward and it’s definitely difficult to keep from at least toe-tapping if not clapping in rhythm.
The infectious energy of the nuns’ ensemble makes the price of a ticket more than worthwhile.
Musical highlights include the three hoods’ “Lady in The Long Black Dress.” the rejuvenated choir’s “Saturday Morning Fever,” Noonan’s retreat “Haven’t Got A Prayer,” and Joines’ plea for guidance “The Life I Never Led.” A standout is the solo work delivered by Calko whose comic delivery is literally head and shoulders above the rest.
Directors Stephen and Stephanie Salisbury keep the pace as brisk as possible and the music right on track in a cast in which many are young stage first-timers and play two and three characters.
The three “hoods, obviously roles written for men, are played here by one man and two women. It works well and is a testimony to doing the best with those who audition, a landmark of community theater. Their trio, “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” delivered on the hunt for Deloris, received well-deserved and sustained applause.
David Chudzynski’s set design goes from secular to sacred with ease but set changes need some rehearsal to achieve the quietest transition possible.
The lingering problem of hearing dialogue is still present in the large, domed Wilson Auditorium although not as obvious in a musical as a straight play. One hopes it will continue to improve.
“SISTER ACT” plays through Oct.1 in the Wilson Auditorium, 215 W. Madison St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.