By Kimberly Harper
If you saw the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy by the same name, then you are already familiar with the story behind “Sister Act,” the fourth and final performance of the summer at Matunuck’s Theatre By the Sea. Deloris Van Cartier is a wannabe 1970s superstar who sees too much one night and has to hide from her criminal boyfriend, Curtis, until his murder trial can commence. The most logical place in Philadelphia? A convent, of course, where she goes undercover as a nun and ends up using her singing talent to turn the worst choir ever into a relevant, rocking soul group that packs the church and gets the Pope’s attention.
The leads in this show are incredible. Jeannette Bayardelle, who has been in Broadway productions of “Hair” and “The Color Purple,” plays Deloris. Her powerful, rich voice can handle every part of the considerable range the role demands and her comedic timing is spot-on. She is paired up against Ellen Harvey, the stern, God-fearing Mother Superior who only wants to save her convent from prospective buyers. Harvey is the perfect foil for Bayardelle, delivering one-liners with a perfect deadpan. She, too, has an impressive resume, including Broadway roles in “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Music Man,” and her soprano voice is beautiful.
The show itself runs long at times, especially in Act 2, but it doesn’t matter. The show is packed the stage with enough talent that you want to listen to each and every note, even if you question why some songs are in the show. Jared Dixon as Lt. Eddie Souther – aka “Sweaty Eddie” – has remarkable stage presence and a great voice, so even though I was left wondering why Deloris could possibly need a love interest in her story line, he more than made the subplot worthwhile. And Philip Michael Baskerville as Curtis is fantastic in the 70s-sounding number “When I Find My Baby,” in which he and his cronies detail exactly why they want to find Deloris again.
Tom Gleadow returns to Matunuck’s stage, this time as the pragmatic monsignor of Queen of Angels Church who gets swept up in the sisters’ new sound and winds up rocking out along with them. It’s a smaller role but one that Gleadow owns entirely, making any scene with the monsignor even funnier than it already was. The nuns have a difficult job in Act 1, considering how hard it is to sing badly on purpose, but manage to take it just far enough to be funny, not obnoxious. And of course when it’s time for them to shine, their vocals are fantastic. Lael Van Keuren as the shy Sister Mary Robert really stands out when her character is finally literally allowed to find her voice.
“Sister Act” is a sweet, fun show with some great costumes, fun dance numbers and uplifting songs. There are some poignant moments that juxtapose nicely with some truly funny lines, making this a fun night at the theater for anyone looking to end their summer on a high note.
“Sister Act” runs through Sept. 4 at Theatre By the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck. Tickets range from $47 to $67 and may be obtained by calling (401) 782-8587 or by visiting theatrebythesea.com