REVIEW: Spirited 'Sister Act' at Theatre Cedar Rapids

Musical launches mainstage season in righteous style

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Queen of Angels choir makes a most joyful noise.

These gleeful soul sisters inject spirit at every turn in “Sister Act.” The 2011 musical based on the 1992 hit film struck accord throughout Thursday’s preview night audience at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

The season’s mainstage opener, directed by Leslie Charipar, just has a few little jitterbugs to shake off before the run takes off, playing weekends through Oct. 8. Some pitches weren’t perfect, and a couple of lines felt a little iffy, but the show has plenty of heart to match its soul.

Martrina Harris is simply divine as lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, who winds up hiding in the convent after seeing her no-good boyfriend kill one of his henchmen. Harris. In her first show since a high school production of “The Wiz,” Harris eases on down the road to the nunnery pretty much kicking and screaming, before she steps into plenty of new habits as Sister Mary Clarence.

Costume designer Joni Sackett has outdone herself in gathering up not only satins and sequins, but leopard prints, leisure suits and hairstyles that place the show squarely in the disco era. The lighting, wisps of smoke and stained glass windows in the Gothic backdrop take the action straight to heaven, where Deloris first leads the nuns in a prayer that begins with a dinner blessing before wildly straying into the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Despite 12 years of Catholic school, she’s definitely a fish out water. It’s not long, however, before she finds her calling by turning the world’s most tone-deaf choir into a rollicking R&B chorus. Their heavenly harmonies are so engaging that even the Monsignor (a hilarious Dave Jepsen) starts getting his groove on, much to the Mother Superior’s disdain. (Nancy Mortimore brings the right measure of starch to that role.)

Several other key players do the hustle as quick change artists, from the henchmen who prance through multiple personas to Brett Borden, who plays about six characters, drawing an amazing line between them all. David Scanlon is all bumbling sincerity as the cop, Eddie, who’s tasked with keeping Deloris alive, while renewing the crush he’s had on her since high school.

The biggest round of applause for a supporting character, however, goes to Sara Maslowski as perennially perky Sister Mary Patrick. She owns the spotlight whenever she dances into it.

In a major departure from the movie, the show has all new music, by Academy Award-winning Alan Menken of Disney-blockbuster fame. The songs are so mirror-ball bright, however, that you won’t even miss the hymns turned into upbeat anthems in the film. Alvon Reed’s clever choreography and Benjamin Schmidt’s spirited orchestra keep the show trucking right along a path that’s neither straight nor narrow, which makes it all the merrier — or in this case, Mary-er.

If You Go

What: “Sister Act” Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE

When: To Oct. 8; 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $38 adults, $29 students, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org

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