For such a slight show, Man in a Case packs an extraordinary amount into its 75-minute running time, beginning with a heated discussion on the best way to kill a turkey (timely, given the time of year) and ending with a heartbreaking, mostly wordless exploration of the transience of love and life. And yes, Mikhail Baryshnikov dances, although perhaps not in a way that does justice to his status as the greatest ballet performer of our time.
The show, adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar and choreographed by Parson, is based on two short stories by Chekhov: the titular tale of a repressed and fearsome schoolmaster, and “About Love,” in which a man recalls how he fell in love with a married woman, only to lose her forever. Parson and Lazar have taken both and crafted a sensational fusion of music, movement, video, and sound that demonstrates how captivating experimental theater can be, both incorporating the elements of traditional storytelling and surpassing them altogether.
Baryshnikov plays Belikov, a teacher of Greek at odds with modernity who terrifies his colleagues while also attempting to be cordial to them. The production is broken into chapters with the titles projected onstage; in “The Faculty Meeting” a video shows schoolgirls congregating around a staircase on an endless loop, and in “The Visit,” Baryshnikov’s face is filmed and simultaneously projected so that it appears like the video link from a doorbell’s security camera. The show says more about surveillance and paranoia in a few scenes than most pundits can communicate in thousands of words—Belikov retires to his house, where the door has a comical number of bolts on it, and then enshrines himself away from the world in a rectangular bed surrounded by white drapes. “By forever praising the past, he was simply trying to justify his horror of reality,” says a narrator.
Baryshnikov’s voice might be faint, even with the microphone he wears, but his physicality is, unsurprisingly, magnetic. He tumbles backward down a staircase with the grace of a cat, and his extraordinarily expressive face communicates all the radically novel feelings Belikov has when he encounters the free-spirited Barbara (the versatile Tymberly Canale). Projections accompanied by the unmistakable rasp of a Polaroid camera reveal him smiling throughout their courtship, a man transformed by possibility. The poignancy is heightened by music director and performer Chris Giarmo’s accompaniments (he sings a number at the end that’s Bon Iver-beautiful), as well as by the incongruous but lovely inclusion of offbeat songs like Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again,” enhanced by a giant mirrorball that descends from above.
The cast also includes Aaron Mattocks as Kovalenko, Barbara’s Ukrainian brother, and Jess Barbagallo as Burkin, who seems to share narrator duties with Giarmo’s Ivan. Costume designer Oana Botez puts those three characters in red-toned plaid shirts and traditional Slavic costumes, all the better to contrast with Belikov’s buttoned-up black suit and military-style overcoat and Barbara’s pink lace dress. Set designer Peter Ksander hints at Belikov’s barren life by crafting his apartment out of identical leather books and dark wood hues. The only picture hanging is an eye-test poster, in a nod to the character’s literal and symbolic shortsightedness.
“About Love” is much shorter, but no less moving. Canale plays the married woman whom Baryshnikov’s character falls in love with, and their romance plays out from a variety of different (physical) angles, with cameras filming them from the side as they sit at a table and from above in the show’s final scene, their bodies contorting into different shapes like the hands of a clock. Endlessly original, deeply moving, and very clever, Man in a Case pushes the boundaries of what art can communicate and create.
Man in a Case is at Shakespeare Theatre’s Lansburgh Theatre through December 22. Running time is about one hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($45 to $105) are available via Shakespeare’s website.
What to expect from a vaudevilluvian farce such as Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 2013? (Yes, I made that word up.) The women are strippers, the men are incompetent, and even the title is a clunky mouthful. You probably wouldn’t want to bring the whole family along, lest the kids be confused by the smutty asides and the grandparents dismayed—or, worse, overly excited—by the shaking of nipple tassels after intermission.
Still, the holidays are for old-fashioned fun, whether the “fun” be sugar plum fairies or miserly grumps or women dressed as flamingoes and warrior princesses being sold into slavery. Alan Paul’s sparkling, positively cinematic production currently playing at Shakespeare Theatre is a lavish spectacle, and full of enough retro flair you half expect a black-and-white Fred Astaire to come tap dancing out of the wings. Ignore the hoary old plot, so dated even Pliny the Elder might turn up his distinctly Roman nose, and focus on the songs, which are, like Lora Lee Gayer’s Philia, just lovely.
One of Sondheim’s earliest musicals, the show features a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the latter of whom went on to create M*A*S*H a decade later. Bruce Dow, last seen at Shakespeare playing Bottom in 2012’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, returns as Pseudolus, the conniving and corpulent slave who barters with his master, Hero (Nick Verina), for his freedom. Along the way he’s helped and hindered by Hysterium (the always brilliant Tom Story) and distracted by a fleet of concubines at the brothel next door, run by Danny Rutigliano’s hapless Marcus Lycus.
The design of the show is so slick it almost clashes with the comedy, although Dow delivers with manic energy, tossing fake babies at audience members and breaking character gleefully to acknowledge when a piece of choreography doesn’t quite go according to plan. When Marcus Lycius parades the concubines in front of Pseudolus, his eyes bulge out so violently that he’s reminiscent of a toga-clad Roger Rabbit. Speaking of which, the parade of Playboy-ready Gymnasia (Jennifer Frankel), the Geminae twins (Ashley Blair Fitzgerald and Sarah Meahl), Vibrata (Lisa Karlin), Panacea (Chelsey Arce), and Tintinabula (Ashley Marinelli) makes the most of David C. Woolard’s vibrantly smutty costumes and Josh Rhodes’s gymnastic choreography.
But it’s Gayer who steals both the show and Hero’s heart, thanks to her insanely dimwitted but sweetly naive turn as Philia. She has the Marilyn Monroe-like ability to make dumb seem both adorable and deliberate while uttering lyrics such as, “Oh, isn’t it a shame? I can neither sew, nor cook, nor read or write my name.” Next to the frantic and ill-conceived scheming going on around her, Philia’s guileless idiocy feels rather refreshing.
Still, if the caricaturish elements are necessarily OTT (Woolard decks out the Proteans in fake rubber bellies and gives Edward Watts’s Miles Gloriosus thighs the size of Hercules), the music is all sorts of refined, featuring a live band led by Adam Wachter. James Noone’s set is also a treat, featuring sharply geometric houses in black and white reaching up from a modern black marble floor (all the better to contrast with the garish hues of Pseudolus’s toga). In the season of festive frivolity, you could do worse than snigger at Shevelove and Gelbart’s gags, even if they’re older than Rome itself.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is at Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall through January 5. Running time is about two and a half hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($20 to $110) are available via Shakespeare Theatre’s website.
Perhaps the worst fate one could wish on the characters in The Lyons is for the four of them to end up in the same room together again.
It’s not an occasion that happens frequently. The quartet has been brought together in Nicky Silver’s acerbic, funny play because Ben, the family patriarch (John Lescault), is dying of cancer. That might put most families on their best behavior. But even as the Lyonses try to tolerate one another (and truth be told, the suddenly vulgar Ben isn’t making much of an effort), they wind up trading barbs, cutting each other to the core, and revealing each other’s deepest secrets, all within the span of a hospital’s visiting hours. As an example, recovering alcoholic Lisa (Kimberly Gilbert) hasn’t been in the room for more than a minute or two before her mother, Rita (Naomi Jacobson), has revealed she thinks Lisa’s son is retarded. “Just moderately. A little,” Rita sniffs defensively.
Silver’s intriguing, sometimes jolting play works not because the Lyonses are likable, relatable, or even particularly realistic (the dialogue, even in the hands of Round House Theatre’s able cast, can still sound practiced). It works because they’re interesting. Particularly intriguing is the caustic but complicated Rita, a woman who’s never really loved her husband but can’t bear the thought of life without him. She has a tendency to destroy everyone in her wake, but Jacobson does an admirable job demonstrating Rita’s surprise that anyone would see her thoughts or actions as less than obvious or justified, no matter how narcissistic or ridiculous they are. Ben dares express shock that she once bought a gun years ago, with designs on using it on him. “It was a whim!” she counters with hilarious exasperation. The character’s complexity, combined with Jacobson’s meaty portrayal, make it impossible not to root for Rita when it looks like she’s been given a second stab at happiness as the play wraps up.
The first act of The Lyons proceeds rather conventionally, but the second act reveals more surprises. It’s structurally different—Gilbert opens the play by including the audience in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Scenes change swiftly, courtesy of Misha Kachman’s rotating set, and transform to the tune of blastingly loud and unexpected music choices, including a creepy cover of “Over the Rainbow.” The drama is also heightened—dire circumstances give the audience more of a window into Curtis (Marcus Kyd), Ben and Rita’s son, who is perhaps the most damaged of the Lyons. His scenes with a no-nonsense nurse (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, making the most of a small role) have a tenderness to them. It’s a testament to Silver’s writing and John Vreeke’s direction that the audience longs for a little warmth for Curtis—or for anyone, really, in this dysfunctional family.
The Lyons is at Round House Theatre Bethesda through December 22. Running time is about two hours, including one intermission. Tickets ($30 to $45) are available via Round House’s website.
OPENING THIS MONTH
December 5 through 22, Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted from two short stories by Anton Chekhov. Read our interview with Baryshnikov about the show.
December 6, Patina Miller, who recently won a Tony Award for her performance in the revival of Pippin on Broadway, comes to the Kennedy Center for the Barbara Cook Spotlight series.
December 10 through January 5, manic and unpredictable comedy duo the Pajama Men returns to Woolly Mammoth with Just the Two of Each of Us. The show follows In the Middle of No One, a hit at Woolly last year.
December 11 through January 5, Studio Theatre kicks off its New British Invasion Festival with Edgar and Annabel, a dark comedy about life in a surveillance state by 30-year-old playwright Sam Holcroft.
December 13 through 29, Keegan Theatre reprises An Irish Carol, its annual staging of Matthew Keenan’s riff on the classic Dickens tale.
December 14 through 22, the Washington National Opera presents The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, a new work based on Jeanette Winterson’s children’s book about the nativity, narrated by the donkey. Music is by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change).
December 17 through January 5, Elf the Musical sets up shop in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The show is a musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell movie about a well-meaning oversize elf named Buddy.
December 17 through January 19, Joe Calarco directs Gypsy , Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne’s 1959 musical about Gypsy Rose Lee, at Signature Theatre.
December 19 through January 12, Theater J presents Our Suburb, a world premiere by Darrah Cloud about an interfaith teenage romance in 1970s Illinois directed by two-time Tony-winner Judith Ivey.
December 25 through January 19, Flashdance comes to the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Thirty years after the movie about a dancing steelworker in Pittsburgh, the musical revives hits such as “What a Feeling” and “Maniac.”
December 25 through 29, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess stops by the National Theatre. The production is a new adaptation by director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan Lori-Parks.
The question continually posed by If/Then, the strong yet unfinished musical trying out at the National Theatre before it heads to Broadway, is what if? To what extent can a decision made in the blink of an eye impact the course of a life? This concept—not exactly an unfamiliar one thanks to movies such as Sliding Doors, from which If/Then appears to borrow a substantial amount of its story—can start to feel gimmicky throughout the course of the show, particularly given the heavy-handed lighting used to clarify the narrative. But these are just minor quibbles compared to the showstopping performances on display. As far as opportunities to see stars belting out songs go, this one goes gangbusters.
Directed by Michael Greif, If/Then stars Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked) as Elizabeth, a 39-year-old city planner who moves to New York after ending her loveless marriage, and whose life subsequently splits into two forks after she decides whether to listen to a musician (Sexy Guitar Guy, a title Tyler McGee needs to put on his résumé) play in Madison Square Park. Carefree, stop-and-smell-the-roses/listen-to-the-music Elizabeth becomes Liz, who’s still neurotic and obsessed with quantifying all her options but lets loose enough to go on a date with Josh (James Snyder), a handsome doctor back from his second tour with the Army. Uptight Elizabeth becomes Beth, gets a fantastic job, falls into an unhappy relationship of sorts with her bisexual best friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp), almost dies in a plane crash, and ends up successful and miserable after all that leaning in.
Liz/Beth’s different stories are illustrated by lighting effects—cold blue for Beth, warm red for Liz. It’s a device that feels like it was added last minute for clarity, and it detracts a little from the spectacular set by Mark Wendland, above which trees loom over the stage and stars and neon maps of the New York City subway appear as if from nowhere. The show is at its strongest when Liz and Beth’s worlds collide, as they do at the end of the first act at a birthday party on a rooftop when both versions of Elizabeth find themselves pregnant by a different man (again, Sliding Doors).
Early in the show, the character of Elizabeth feels clichéd, what with her extreme anal retentiveness and her constant attempts to calculate decisions out of numbers. “I’m not sure how to quantify sexy,” she tells her friend Kate, plated by the spectacular LaChanze, who won a Tony for her role in The Color Purple. But as Liz and Beth emerge, Menzel does a good job showing how each character changes—Liz becoming more open and accepting, and Beth hardening to the point where she impulsively kisses her boss (Jerry Dixon). Decisions have consequences, we’re told over and over again, and Liz/Beth’s different paths demonstrably affect not only her own life but also the lives of those around her.
If/when the philosophizing gets a bit much, the songs are ample compensation. The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the team behind the Tony-winning show Next to Normal, and while there are a few duds (through no fault of Rapp’s, “Ain’t No Man Manhattan” is a dullard), Lucas’s “You Don’t Need to Love Me” is a genuine heartbreaker, as is Liz’s “Learn to Live Without.” Rapp, best known for playing dorky Mark alongside Menzel in the Broadway and film versions of Rent (the former of which was also directed by Greif), is unexpectedly charming as even more dorky Lucas, a hapless and crunchy housing activist whose happiness is intertwined so tightly with Liz/Beth’s own. And as winsome and kindhearted Josh, Snyder is exceptional, managing to save his too-good-to-be-true Army doctor from becoming boring and delivering his solo numbers—especially “Hey Kid”—with chops galore.
But it’s Menzel’s musical, and everyone else is just living in it. The Idina superfans you’ll almost certainly run into in the ladies’ room at intermission already know all the lyrics, and understandably so—the way she delivers her songs is just thrilling to watch, even if she seems to be holding back a little in the first act. One imagines it’s hard to play a character as unshowy and awkward as Liz/Beth while simultaneously winning over the whole of the audience in the National’s 1,676-seat theater, but Menzel does it, and also manages countless costume changes while flitting between Liz and Beth. If/Then is a long way from perfect—the choreography by Larry Keigwin in particular feels alarmingly clunky—but it’s definitely captivating at moments, thanks to some lovely songs and a deservedly acclaimed star.
If/Then is at the National Theatre through December 8. Running time is about two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets ($58 to $228) are available via the National Theatre’s website.
Too often, political conversations around a family dinner table end up with uninformed ideologues shouting at each other. In That Hopey Changey Thing, the conversation actually proves to be enlightening.
It takes some time to get to that point, but it’s worth the wait. Initially, Richard Nelson’s play is concerned with setting up the familial dynamics of the Apple clan, who are also the subject of Sweet and Sad, running in repertory at Studio Theatre. (That work, set on September 11, 2011, is focused on the 9/11 attacks—a reference point, but not the focal point for That Hopey Changey Thing, which is set a year earlier.) The family is a fascinating one, made up of four siblings with varying degrees of passion for liberal politics, as well as their uncle Benjamin (Ted van Griethuysen), a renowned actor suffering from memory loss.
Along for the ride is Tim (Jeremy Webb), another actor who happens to be the young lover of Jane (Kimberly Schraf); the performer has a knack for pulling Benjamin out of his internal world and getting him to actually articulate what he’s been experiencing during his years of dementia. Any time van Griethuysen resurfaces from his character’s stupor, he commands the stage.
Nelson lets the audience gradually get to know his characters and figure out exactly how they relate to one another. The play is entirely set at a dining room buffet table, intimately fashioned by designer Debra Booth; director Serge Selden smartly blocks the activity so it feels realistic, like the audience is spying on an actual conversation. Barbara (Sarah Marshall) is the de facto matriarch, who initially seems tense and jittery about her siblings coming into her home but soon relaxes into familiar patterns with them. Her sister Marian (Elizabeth Pierotti) is an abrasive Democratic organizer with knee-jerk liberal loyalties; her other sister, Jane, is a cultural anthropologist of sorts, at work on a book about etiquette. Shaking things up is Richard (Rick Foucheux), a civil-servant lawyer whose departure to a private firm has his family questioning his political loyalties, even before he makes them start questioning their own assumptions.
Hopey Changey proves to be just as engrossing whether it’s presenting abstract criticisms of the Obama presidency or just examining how its characters interact. Marshall, a master of comic timing, is hilarious expressing her nervousness that her sister Jane is watching her every move, hoping it will lead to some sort of behavioral revelation she can use for her book. As Richard, Foucheux can seem cold and condescending as he describes his newfound political cynicism to his sisters, but he still collapses into giggles when they torture him with tickles, as they did when they were younger. Eventually, Richard guides That Hopey Changey Thing into a bracing critique of the current administration, but it happens in a way that just feels like people sitting around, gradually spitting out their pent-up frustrations and realizations. Perhaps the most poignant one comes from Marshall’s Barbara, who reveals that warring 21st-century America may have more in common with the ancient Greeks and Trojans than we ever would have imagined.
That Hopey Changey Thing is at Studio Theatre through December 29. Running time is one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($39 to $75) are available via Studio Theatre’s website.
Whether it’s his charm, his charisma, his showmanship, or the obvious, palpable pleasure he takes just from being on a stage in front of an audience, Maurice Hines is irresistible. You may try to sit still through Tappin’ Thru Life, his autobiographical show currently playing at Arena Stage, but defying the beat is like defying gravity—a thoroughly pointless exercise.
As if Hines himself—now 70 and still going strong—weren’t enough, there’s also the Diva Jazz Band, a nine-member, all-female troupe behind him led by the impossibly brilliant Dr. Sherrie Maricle on drums. There’s also the Manzari Brothers, the local double act Hines discovered when he was working on Arena’s Sophisticated Ladies revival three years ago, who are now physically stronger and even more creative than they were in that production. And for this Washington incarnation of the show, directed by Jeff Calhoun (Broadway’s Newsies), Hines has added Max and Sam Heimowitz, two seventh-graders from Alice Deal Middle School who manage to hold their own against the wealth of talent onstage.
Tappin’ Thru Life is Hines’s story, or stories, rather, since you get the sense he has thousands of them. But it also pays tribute to his brother, Gregory—the Tony-winning hoofer who danced with Maurice as a duo for the first three decades of their careers—as well as giving thanks to the mother who saw something in both sons and encouraged them to do what they loved. Hines’s obvious joy in performing is infectious. The show opens with his smiling baby picture followed by a video montage of his tapping feet (the terrific projections are by Darrel Maloney), and then the screens roll away and there is the man in person, grinning just as gleefully as his infant self and still tapping.
You could sell this show on the songs alone—even though Hines’s voice isn’t as powerful as it once was, his renditions of “Come Fly With Me,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” transport the show to a much classier era, backed as nostalgically as they are by the trumpets and double bass. Hines weaves the songs into his narrative, recalling his childhood in New York with a mother who’d carry shoe polish when the family went for a walk in case someone’s leather got scuffed. He tells stories about performing in Vegas as a child, meeting Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Johnny Carson, and, heartbreakingly, about the segregation and racism black performers experienced at the time.
The unseen star is Gregory, who Hines declares is always onstage with him, and who gets his own spotlight when his brother performs one of his earliest soft-shoe routines (Gregory died of liver cancer in 2003). That sense of real kinsmanship is heightened by the stellar performances by Leo and John Manzari, who act as young pretenders to Hines’s throne while he cheerfully bats them away. Both the Manzaris and the Heimowitzes have a brotherly rapport that again pays tribute to the much-missed Gregory, whose grinning face is replicated in a hundred different family photos, and whose presence is truly felt.
To hear the star’s stories, and to share in his infectious enthusiasm, even for an evening, is a joy. Tappin’ Thru Life is escapism of the best kind: happy, heartfelt, and most of all, Hines.
Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life is at Arena Stage through December 29. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Tickets ($55 and up) are available via Arena’s website.
The play might be titled Appropriate after a adjective its characters utter as a constant refrain, but there’s another word that lingers long after the lights go up. Each member of the Lafayette family, returning home to a moldering Arkansas plantation to pack things up after the death of their patriarch, is warped in some way—thanks to the legacy of an unseen father who’s as much as presence onstage as any of them, and whose dark spirit seems to contaminate his descendants all the more the longer they stay there.
Appropriate is Washington-raised emerging playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s homage to the Southern family dramas of yore, from Tennessee Williams and Horton Foote to the more recent horrors of the Weston family in Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County. Set designer Clint Ramos has constructed a spectacularly vast and spooky set that seems to be disintegrating by the minute, with grand staircases leading up to heaven past rotting walls and piles of crap everywhere that make the space feel a lot like an episode of Hoarders. Sweet Home Alabama it ain’t.
Returning home to this decaying manse are Beauregarde “Bo” Lafayette (David Bishins); his bitter sister, Toni (Deborah Hazlett); their younger brother, Frank/Franz (Tim Getman); and the three siblings’ respective spouses and children. Bo’s wife, Rachael (Beth Hylton) is a type-A New Yorker who fusses constantly over their children, Cassidy (Maya Brettell) and Ainsley (Colde Edelstein). Toni’s son Rhys (Josh Adams) has recently gotten into trouble for selling prescription pills at school (we find out very briefly and somewhat unsatisfactorily that a kid died). And Frank, the black sheep of the family who’s quickly dismissed as a “pedophile” by his siblings, is engaged to a 23-year-old hippie named River (Caitlin McColl), whose joyful and positive spirit makes the moody, self-seeking Lafayettes appear even more vile.
Mies Julie, currently playing in its Washington premiere at Shakespeare Theatre, packs so much heat, longing, conflict, and cruelty into its brief 90-minute running time that it’s a miracle the stage doesn’t implode under the weight of all that energy. Written and directed by Yael Farber (and feted nonstop since it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012), the production by Cape Town's Baxter Theatre Center and the South African State Theatre takes August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and pokes it with a cattle prod until it’s raw, leaving a festering brew of hate, heritage, desire, and shame in its wake.
While Strindberg’s 1888 play tackled the intersection of gender, power, and social status, Farber adds another toxic ingredient to the mix: race. Mies Julie is set on a farm in post-apartheid South Africa where Julie (Hilda Cronje) lives with her father on land seized centuries ago. She spars with John (Bongile Mantsai), her father’s servant, whose mother, Christine (Thoko Ntshinga), helped raise Julie as a child. In Strindberg’s play the characters of Christine and John were engaged to be married rather than mother and son; by making Christine the matriarch Farber confronts the idea of ancestors in a more immediate way, and gives John and Julie a shared childhood that makes them feel a little more like equals.
Cronje’s Julie and Mantsai’s John share an aggressively sexual physicality from the moment they saunter onstage: She combines the poise of a dancer with an almost comic animalism, wielding her crotch like a weapon (or a rhesus monkey). But if her body language is unsubtle, her eyes are much more complex. As Julie tells John how her father would read her bedtime stories about shooting any black man who’d dare to touch her, before demanding haughtily that he kiss her feet, her face hints at the turbulence below her vicious affect.
Sister Act is a deeply mediocre musical—corny, predictable, and broadly performed. There’s no getting around that. The only way to enjoy it is to sit back, relax, and view it on its own terms. The audience at last week’s press opening in the Kennedy Center Opera House did just that, and it worked for them.
There are a few performances to savor in this energetic touring company, but you have to suss them out amid the overamplified din, cheesy scenery, and actors who were presumably directed to play it as over-the-top as possible.
Sister Act premiered on Broadway in 2011, inspired by the 1992 film comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg (who is one of this show’s producers) as past-her-prime lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’Rea Campbell). First we see Deloris auditioning with her backup singers (Gisela Adisa and Mary Searcy) at a club owned by her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston). Later she accidentally sees Curtis kill someone. Knowing what he’s like, she runs. A shy cop named Eddie (Chester Gregory), a high school acquaintance of Deloris’s, convinces her to hide out in a convent where she can temporarily take the veil so she can eventually testify against Curtis. The flamboyant Deloris has trouble adapting to convent life and the tight ship run by the stern Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik). Assigned to help the convent’s comically sour, lackluster choir, Deloris quickly turns them into a soulful, rockin’ ensemble. They become famous, which is not good for Deloris’s safety.
Unlike the film, which was set mostly in San Francisco, the stage show takes place in Philadelphia, circa 1978, on the tough side of town. This allows for musical and visual nods to the synchronized moves and sparkly clothes of the girl and guy groups of that era or just before it, along with the advent of disco. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography and Lez Brotherston’s costume designs are amusing in the way they echo those times, but they play it pretty safe, satire-wise.