Dropping temperatures won’t be the only reason to rejoice this November as Theatre Baton Rouge brings a chorus of comedy to the stage with the regional premiere of “Sister Act.”
Originating in 1992 as a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, and Harvey Keitel, “Sister Act” proved to be one of the biggest box-office successes of the ‘90s.
The story focuses on Deloris van Cartier, who is hoping to take her stage act in the ‘70s to the big time while she struggles with her small-time show. Her life goes from bad to worse when she witnesses a man murdered in cold blood. While waiting to testify against the murderers, Deloris is hidden away in a nearby convent with the consent of the Mother Superior. Introduced as Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris clashes with life as a nun. Her only escape from her troubles is leading the nuns’ choir, breathing new life into the church. But in doing so, she blows her cover.
“It’s a very multi-layered show,” said Courtney Murphy, who is co-directing the show beside Kurt Hauschild. “Sure, on the surface it’s a musical, it’s a comedy, but if you go just a little bit deeper, it’s a love story. It’s a love story in the sense of a woman who has a love of her self-worth, or these sisters in this convent who love one another and have a bond of friendship, or between one woman and her very strong faith.”
Hauschild started directing for TBR backin 2013, and Murphy has been involved as an actor and occasional co-director since 2012. According to Hauschild, the selection of TBR for the regional premiere of “Sister Act” shows that the theatre has a great reputation.
“It’s such a great theatre doing great work,” Hauschild said. “The people that volunteer there and work there, everybody is committed to doing very high level, well-performed shows. We have respect in that community. I think the idea that we are offered to have regional premieres like this just proves to a larger audience that we are as good as we know we are.”
Images: Sean Gasser
For Hauschild, some of the pieces of the movie that transfer nicely into the musical are the transformations between Deloris and Mother Superior.
“One is just the sheer comedy of the fish out of water story… but the other thing that I believe is the important story is her bringing a new idea of how to worship into the convent,” Hauschild said. “It’s a pretty stale convent by the time Deloris gets there. Nobody is coming to the services anymore, and they haven’t done anything different to try to change that. I like the story of Deloris and Mother Superior bumping heads with each other and then finding a new way of life through each other.”
Transitioning from a hit cinematic film to Broadway musical is nothing new, but according to Hauschild, some rarely get it right.
“I feel like there is a desire to try and take the six or seven pieces of a movie that have stood the test of time, and try to form those into a full musical instead of turning the whole story,” Hauschild said. “But I think ‘Sister Act’ is one of the few exceptions that understood what the point of the movie was.”
“There are just more moments that are fleshed out,” Murphy added. “The point of a musical is that you’re telling a story that you can no longer tell through words with song. I think it lends itself so nicely as a musical.”
One of the major changes from the cinematic version of “Sister Act” is that the story will take place in the ‘70s rather than the ‘90s.
“Having the backdrop of the 1970s is perfect because it is some of the best music in American culture,” Murphy said. “You got some Bee-Gees-sounding music, you got some Marvin Gaye-sounding music, and you got Donna Summers-esque music. I think musically the composer had a field day.”
The tone of the comedy will be very much Hauschild’s and Murphy’s showcase as they work with the cast on pace and delivery of the jokes for multilayered humor.
“That’s something I love about comedy and when I direct shows, finding all of those moments,” Hauschild said. “Shows like Frasier have done it really well where there would be a joke, but then there would be six tiny ones behind it.”
“Sister Act” features 24 actors with Erika Pattman starring as Deloris, along with Jennifer Johnson as Mother Superior and Alaina Richard as Sister Mary Patrick.
“Erika’s never done anything like this before,” Hauschild said. “This is her first show, she just loves the movie, and she wanted to audition for it when she saw it. When she came in, she was wonderful. And Jennifer has been around the theatre forever and has done wonderful shows. It’s fun to watch the two of them together.”
According to Hauschild, the entire cast is working hard to make it a successful production. “They’re all having a blast,” Hauschild said. “There’s a Facebook page for the group that everybody keeps posting little videos on and comments on and everyone is just having a great time putting it together.”
“One of the reasons I love Theatre Baton Rouge so much is that it’s theatre for the community by the community,” Murphy said. “And this shows that because it is a unique cast in that there are newcomers and there are veterans, and they’re working together so well to create really funny moments, some really sweet moments, and some wonderful stuff on stage.”
Sister Act runs from Nov. 3-19 at Theatre Baton Rouge. Tickets and showtimes can be found on their website.