Tuesday, November 27, 2018

There's a Balm on Broad Street

Monsignor O'Hara (Michael Hawke) wasn't the only one unfamiliar with the meaning of 'balm of Gilead.'

A quick visit to google and I found the origin - referred to in the Old Testament, in Gilead there was a tree that produced a balm with healing powers. In the New Testament, Jesus is the balm for salvation.

The first known African-American spiritual  to include reference is "The Sinner's Cure" an 1854 hymn attributed to Washington Glass:
There is a balm in Gilead; to make the wounded whole; there's power enough in heaven; to cure a sin-sick soul.
Well there's a balm on Broad Street.

For just over two hours you can escape from today's troubled word, and delight in Virginia Rep's Sister Act. A balm indeed. Laughter, comedic capers, a kick-ass group of nuns, and a message about unlikely friendships, and having your sisters' back, Sister Act was a delight from start to finish.

Felicia Curry electrifies as Deloris Van Cartier -  (the character originally brought to life by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie of the same name) who is on the run and in hiding as Sister Mary Clarence in a Philadelphia convent. Andrea Rivette portrays Mother Superior to perfection.  And newcomer Sincee J. Daniels thrills as the show's villain, Curtis.

Michael Hawke gives a strong, endearing performance as the Monsignor desperate to keep the convent from being sold to 'two bachelors who deal in antiques.' I giggled out loud when Monsignor jumps up and down in his voluminous vestments, and yells "goodie!"

You can't help but cheer for the sincere, utterly lovable Eddie (Durron Marquis Tyre) a Philadelphia cop assigned to protect Deloris - who has harbored a not-so-secret crush on Deloris (plain old Doris Carter) since high school.

There wasn't a secondary character in the cast that didn't put in a top-notch performance; a true stellar ensemble performance. Curtis's sidekicks Joey (Paul S. Major), Pablo (Mark Parello, Jr.), and TJ (Anthony Cosby) deliver some of the show's funniest moments as they try to track down Van Cartier who witnessed Curtis - her married lover - murder an informant.

Major's writhing on the ground as he imagines himself seducing the nuns at Queen of Angels Convent is priceless in the funniest musical moment - when the sidekicks sing Lady in the Long Black Dress.

Though all the nuns were hilarious with exceptional voices, two in particular stood out. Kelsey Cordrey lit the stage up with her warm, funny, and enthusiastic portrayal of Sister Mary Patrick.

And Gwynne Wood, in her first job since graduating from the Boston Conservatory, is infectious in her role as Sister Mary Robert,  a young postulate who delivers my favorite musical moment - belting out The Life I Never Led. What a voice!

Bravo to Robin Arthur for great direction and choreography. The live orchestra under the direction of Anthony Smith is top notch. Costumes, scenes, lights, sound . . . it all added up to just the balm for the soul-sickness that often accompanies the holiday season.

Sometimes the best theatre isn't overly dramatic or tense. It isn't so deep you need a degree in philosophy to understand it. Sometimes it is the heartfelt, stellar performances of a bunch of exceptional talent having a heck of a lot of fun, with a script that is heartwarming and uplifting.

Sister Act is just such a show. The audience was on their feet at the end of the performance. Theatre audiences in Richmond have on occasion been overly generous with standing ovations. This one was well-earned.

Sister Act  continues at Virginia Rep's November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage through January 6, 2019. For tickets visit: http://www.tickets.va-rep.org.

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