Pittsburgh CLO delivers glitzy good times with Sister Act

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Photo: Matt Polk

Tamyra Gray directs the Nuns of Pittsburgh CLO’s sister act in song.

Pittsburgh CLO ends its summer 2022 season with sister act, a rousing musical adaptation of the hit 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg. On view until Sunday August 14 at the Benedum Center, the musical set in 1970s Philadelphia, as opposed to the film’s setting of 1990s San Francisco follows a flashy nightclub singer who enters witness protection as a nun in a stuffy convent, only to discover a higher calling for her showmanship.

Tamyra Gray rocks the house as Deloris van Cartier, a down-on-his-luck professional singer. We meet her on Christmas Eve 1977 as she auditions in an empty nightclub for her mob boss boyfriend and his henchmen. Although she and her backup performers, played by Kiara Lee and Saige Smith, put on a terrific performance singing one of the show’s best numbers, “Take Me to Heaven,” Boyfriend Curtis (Benjamin H. Moore ), doesn’t seem at all interested in giving Deloris stage time.

The plot takes off when she sees Curtis kill a suspected police informant in her group. Deloris flees to a Philadelphia police station for protection, where she meets Eddie Souther (E. Clayton Cornelious), a clumsy cop she’s known since high school as “Sweaty Eddie”, a clumsy kid who always had a crush on her. As Eddie, who eventually becomes Deloris’ love interest, Cornelius rescues an otherwise flat character with goofy earnestness.

Eddie convinces Deloris to testify against Curtis and drives her to a nearby convent which is in no way ready or willing to receive her. The convent, Queen of Angels, features nervous, mostly white nuns led by a frosty Mother Superior (Anne Tolpegin), and it’s immediately apparent that Deloris isn’t a good fit at all. Nonetheless, she becomes “incognegro” as a nun named Sister Mary Clarence and moves in while waiting for Curtis to stand trial. Mother Superior soon realizes she can get Deloris out of her hair by putting her to work doing something she’s good at, singing in the convent’s truly dreadful choir.

Click to enlarge Three men pose in line in the middle of a dance number in CLO's Sister Act

Before long, Deloris takes over the choir and coaxes her sisters’ top-notch vocal performances, turning the band into a musical sensation that could save the convent from bankruptcy, if Curtis and his gang don’t find Deloris first. Curtis’ surprisingly funny and likeable henchmen TJ (Tré Frazier), Joey (Davis Wayne) and Pablo (Robert Ariza) comb Philadelphia in search of Deloris and, once they locate her, shine in a second act number on how they would. everyone indulges in seduction to enter the convent (“Lady in the Long Black Dress”).

The production design frames these performances in a thoughtful and engaging color palette curated by set designer Adam Koch, lighting designer Paul Miller and costume designer Lez Brotherston. Lilacs and blues sometimes come to life with contrasting yellows, greens, oranges and reds like Deloris navigates Philadelphia’s nightlife, and like the the sisters discover and embrace their passion for song. An intricate set by Koch includes beautiful stained glass windows inside the convent and dark, but not dull Philadelphia streets outside.

In the show’s best songs, composer Alan Menken’s music performs the curious task of introducing new songs that sound like they already exist, like the opening number “Take Me to Heaven,” the audience hit “Raise Your Voice” and “When I Find My Baby” Curtis’ bouncy Motown love song about how badly he wants to find Deloris so he can kill her. Robbie Roby’s eye-catching choreography excels in numbers that draw on pop and soul background dance history to make CLO’s sister act an unexpected glitzy good time.

sister act. Continues until Sunday, August 14. Benedum Center. 237 7th Street, Downtown. $29-90. pittsburghclo.org

About James K. Bonnette

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