By Jean Lowerison
What is it about nuns in the theater? Remember Debbie Reynolds, “The Singing Nun,” in the 1962 film? Then there’s “The Flying Nun” and the nuns in “The Sound of Music.”
Now we have San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of “Sister Act,” the 2006 musical based on the 1992 film about religion, criminals, love and finding your place in the world.
In Philadelphia, pop singer Deloris Van Cartier (Miriam Dance) and two other female singers do “Take Me to Heaven” for Deloris’ gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Berto Fernandez), who has been stringing her along with promises of fame and fortune. But he tells her (again) that she’s “not ready.”
She decides to take her career into her own hands, but unfortunately, she gets to Curtis just at the time he’s plugging someone he believes has “squealed” on him. Deloris skedaddles out of there to the local cops, where she tells her story to cop Eddie (Jeremy Whatley), who turns out to be an old high school friend she used to call “Sweaty Eddie.”
Meanwhile, Curtis has put out a hit on her, so she’s got to hide. Eddie takes Deloris to the local convent, where he thinks Curtis will never find her.
The Mother Superior (Sandy Campbell) is not thrilled when this obviously inappropriate creature walks into the sacred convent in shorts and sparkly boots and a most unholy swagger. But Eddie is adamant about hiding her in this unlikely place.
You can imagine the chaos Deloris causes. Putting on that habit doesn’t change her. Will she adapt? Will Curtis somehow find her? Will the sisters influence her or will it be the other way around?
You probably know the answers, but that doesn’t matter. What does is that SDMT has another genuine hit on its hands, thanks to fine direction by Larry Raben, a terrific cast, a great orchestra of 11 wonderfully conducted by Don LeMaster, and delightful disco-look choreography by Luke Harvey Jacobs.
This terrific cast includes many newcomers to SDMT. Miriam Dance plays the star of the show Deloris Van Cartier, singer extraordinaire and wearer of clothes utterly inappropriate for a convent. She has a voice as big as all outdoors, knows how to use it, and is utterly believable as the fish-out-of-water star.
Sandy Campbell, no stranger to local stages, continues her unbroken string of great performances in her SDMT debut as the put-upon Mother Superior.
Berto Fernandez is impressive (and scary) as head gangster Curtis; his henchmen Joey (Donny Gersonde), TJ (E.Y. Washington) and Pablo (Gerardo Flores Tonella) are amusing and a little scary too.
Sarah Errington is impressive as Sister Mary Robert, who takes to this pop style of singing enough to make her wonder (in the poignant song “The Life I Never Led”) whether she has truly found her life’s work.
And another local favorite, Bethany Slomka, is a riot as Sister Mary Patrick, up for anything and amusing in everything she does.
This large cast of 24 gives it their all, which is considerable.
But enough of this talk. If you’re looking to escape the news for a while — or just for an entertaining musical to watch — “Sister Act” fills the bill.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.