The crowd milling at the lobby of the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, is amused at the sight of a group of men and women dressed as nuns who posed for photos before entering the main hall.
Whether it’s a publicity stunt for the show itself, the group’s appearance heightens the mood and anticipation moments before the curtains rise for “Sister Act.”
A stage adaptation of the 1992 comedy film that starred Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” opened in 2009 at the West End, followed by a 2011 run on Broadway.
Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, “Sister Act” has original lyrics by Glenn Slater (2008 Tony Awards nominee for Best Original Score, Broadway version of “The Little Mermaid”) and music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken of “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “Pocahontas” fame.
Originally coproduced by Goldberg herself, the stage version of “Sister Act” essentially retains the film’s plot. Club singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder and is put into protective custody in a convent, where she breathes new life to the church’s mediocre choir, much to the shock of the nuns’ Mother Superior.
What makes it different, however, is the music. Ditching the film’s covers of mostly ’60s Motown classics, the stage production gets into a funk-infused disco groove with new songs written by Menken, and the club where Deloris sings and the convent now set in Philadelphia.
In interviews at the media preview in Singapore, music director Chris Babbage says: “The music in the movie, which takes place in the ’90s, has Deloris as a club singer who does ’60s girl groups—whose tunes are a little limited. Menken had written in that style, he had written ‘Little Shop of Horrors …’ And so, moving the story to the 1970s, in Philadelphia which was the heart of the disco scene at the time, opened a whole new world of sound possibilities. Disco has such a driving excitement, a driving beat, and it served the story and Deloris’ personality so well … The excesses of the disco scene contrast so perfectly with the austere strictness of the convent and it’s just an effective dichotomy.”
Associate director Steve Beckler points out: “The thing about a musical is that you can talk and do book scenes and, eventually, if they segue into a musical number, very often, the emotional reality of the scene is heightened. And that’s what I think we achieved, as with most good musicals. The characters can’t say anything more, they now have to sing to each other.”
The Singapore dates featured an Asia International Tour cast.
In the opening song “Take Me to Heaven,” Dené Hill, playing Deloris, starts off tentatively but gains sufficient strength, propelling her disruptive diva character into a spiritual force in the church choir.
“Sister Act” is a fine example of ensemble acting and singing—its high points evident in “Take Me to Heaven (Reprise)” performed by the choir, as well as in “Raise Your Voice” and “The Life I Never Led,” featuring, on solo vocals, South Korean Sophie Kim as the timid Sister Mary Robert, whom Deloris inspires to find her “voice.”
The rest of the cast demonstrate their respective singing talent, notably, Will Travis who shines as police officer Eddie Souther in the soulful “I Could Be That Guy,” and Rebecca Marson-Wygal who fleshes out her uptight Mother Superior in “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Says Beckler: “Many people say casting is everything. This is really one of my favorite casts. Using Sophie as Sr. Mary Robert in this production is inspiring. She’s wonderful as an actress, she has many gifts, she’s funny, and, of course, her voice is exquisite …”
The same Asia International Tour cast will perform in “Sister Act’s” Manila dates starting June 27 at The Theatre at Solaire, presented by Ovation Productions. “Sister Act” the musical runs June 27-July 9 at Theatre at the Solaire, Solaire Resort and Casino, Aseana Ave. Parañaque City. Call 8888888 or Ovation Productions 5328883.