Musical theater is alive and doing quite well at Karamu Theater as evidenced by the nearly full house in the Jelliffe Theater on a snowy Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. The show is “Sister Act” that is in mid-run and will be on stage through Dec. 30. It is quite an ambitious project what with a company of 22 actors and six-piece orchestra.

“Sister Act” is a musical written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane that features lyrics by Glen Slater and music by Alan Menken. The musical is based on the 1992 film comedy of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg.

The show got its start in Pasadena (2006) and Atlanta (2007) before moving on to London’s West End (2009) and then to Broadway (2011) where it ran for 561 performances. It has become a worldwide sensation having been translated into seven languages with over six million audience members seeing the show.

It is Christmas Eve and Deloris Van Cartier is auditioning for her gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson at his night club thinking that this audition will lead to an introduction to a record producer on that day (her birthday). Her hopes are dashed when she learns that there is no record producer, Curtis will be spending Christmas Eve with his wife and the bright blue fur coat he gave her for Christmas her once belonged to his wife.

Deloris has had enough and decides to break up with Curtis. Tracking him down to the alley behind the club she arrives just in time to see Curtis shoot and kill one of his crew who he thinks is a snitch. Deloris manages to leave with Curtis’ crew in hot pursuit and makes her way to the local police station run by Eddie who had a crush on her in high school. Eddie’s idea is to stash Deloris in the local convent until the murder trial can come to court.

At the convent, Delores runs in to a brick wall known as “The Mother Superior” and sparks fly as two very strong personalities are pitted against each other. The church attached to the convent is failing and after Deloris is caught in a local bar having a beer and steak sandwich Mother Superior puts her in the choir in the hopes of keeping her quiet, useful and out of the way. Delores soon takes over the group of singing nuns and with jazzed up hymns has them belting out four part harmony with a Mo-Town beat that is filling the church pews much to the chagrin of Mother Superior.    

Eventually, Curtis finds out where Delores is and sends his henchmen dressed as nuns to kill her. The real nuns unite in a solid force to fight the gangsters leading to a mad-cap chase through the convent.

Overall, this is an excellent production although (through no fault of the cast) the beginning drags a bit. Once in the convent, the comedy takes over as a scheming Deloris tries to outwit the staid Mother Superior while the nuns suddenly find themselves funktified. Colleen Longshaw* is perfect as the brassy and sassy Deloris pitted against the old school Teresa Deberry as Mother Superior. You need to listen carefully to the dialog and song lyrics for the many comic bits. Also, listen carefully to the orchestra during their little interlude numbers. You will find some recognizable snippets of well known songs that are absolutely delightful.

At the end of the show, the entire ensemble cast of nuns got a rousing accolade from the audience equal to the principles rewarding them for the fine group performance that they had achieved.    

There are some adult themes as well as gun shots during the production.

Any production that can nearly fill the theater in mid-run on a snowy Sunday in Cleveland definitely has something good going for it. Put this show on your Christmas list and get your tickets before they are gone. This is a high energy, high spirited and very entertaining classic.

The Cast of Sister Act includes: Colleen Longshaw as Deloris Van Cartier, Teresa Deberry as Mother Superior, Katelyn Cornelius as Sister Mary Robert,

Dayshawnda Ash as sister Mary Patrick, Christina Johnson as sister Mary Lazarus, Corin B. Self as Monsignor O’Hara, Anthony Brown as Curtis, Matt F. Gillespie as Eddie, Richard Moses as TJ, Nate Summers as Joey, Gideon Patrick-Lorete as Pablo Jacqueline Lockett as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, Diane Klein as sister Mary Theresa, Jailyn Sherell Harris as Michele, Corlesia Smith as Tina, Brandon Murphy as Ernie with the ensemble made up of T’Andre Buchanan, Meg Martinez, Chelsea Cannon, Malika Turner, Devon Settles and Joshua McElroy.

The Crew consists of Sheffia Randall Dooley as Director, Edward E. Ridley, Jr. as Musical Director, Kevin D. Mark II as choreographer, Tonya Broach as Stage Manager, Tiamarshae Sanford as Assistant Director, Richard H. Morris, jr. as Set/Lighting Designer, Inda Blatch-Geib as Costume Designer, Brille McGrew as Wardrobe, Quinton Jenkins as Sound Designer, Prophet Seay as Light Engineer/Master Carpenter, Cliffie Jones as Prop Mistress with carpenters Cliffie Jones, Charles Morton, Kennan Cobb and Kenneth Wheeler.

Karamu’s production of Sister Act will be on stage through Friday, Dec. 30. Tickets are at Prices are Adult $37, Senior $32 (62 +). Student (under 25 with ID) $15. Group pricing is available by calling (216) 795-7077 (Jaime Weinfeld).


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