A Gorgeous Set and Superb Entertainment in ‘Sister Act’ at Theatre Jacksonville

Sara Beth, Felecia Ewing and Susan Roche


Theatre Jacksonville is closing its 99th season with the musical comedy Sister Act, which opened on June 7, 2019. The story was first presented in a 1992 hit film starring Woopi Goldberg. Little Shop of Horrors composer Alan Menken put the romp to music; the setting was changed from Reno to Philly. In October 2006, it opened at the Pasadena Playhouse and grossed over one million dollars in less than two months. The Broadway production opened in April 2011, ran for over 560 performances, and received multiple Tony nominations.  

Director and Choreographer Curtis J. Williams brilliant casting brought twenty-one actors to the stage: ten are making their Theatre Jax debuts. The hilarious plot and the marvelous cast kept the full house opening night audience in stitches during the entire show.

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_Felecia Ewing and Abrien Nelson g
Felecia Ewing and Abrien Nelson

This story about the adventures of a nightclub singer is just a lot of fun, and while fast-moving, is easy to follow. When Deloris van Cartier witnesses a murder by her mobster boyfriend Curtis, she is on his hit list, and needs to hide, fast, until he can be arrested and she can provide testimony needed for conviction. With the help of the police, she finds a safe – but confining – haven in a nearby Catholic convent. She reluctantly dons a habit and joins the other nuns in their devotions. Deloris is played by Jacksonville native Felecia Ewing, with a marvelous voice, tremendous energy, and outstanding comedic ability.

Deloris brings changes to the convent, as she soon has all the nuns performing rousing gospel numbers and lavish coordinated dance routines, much to the dismay of the Mother Superior. With this role, we want to welcome back Kathy Sanders, who sings many of the songs; Theatre Jax regulars will recall her performances in many roles over the years. She has returned to Jacksonville on a permanent basis after her husband’s recent retirement from the Navy.

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville

While Mother Superior may be unhappy with the way things are going, Monsignor O’Hara (Audie Gibson) is thrilled, as the church is attracting many new patrons who are filling up collection plates. While Gibson returns to this stage after a gap of thirty-four years, he has been a light and sound operator volunteer for many years and we have seen his name in many Theatre Jax programs.

We won’t be taking the plot further, but will reveal that the story has a happy ending and getting there is pure pleasure for those in the audience.

Clayton Riddley is perfectly cast as Curtis, a muscular gangster filled with menace.  He has a marvelous voice and has been in many musicals. In real life, he teaches music and performance at a local elementary school.

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_ Brian K Champion, Susan Roche and Nikolas Alexander Wendorf
Brian Champion, Susan Roche and Nikolas Alexander Wendorf

Director Williams has tapped into the talents of Curtis’s sidekicks, who include Ernie (Nikolas Wendorf), and the trio of TJ (James Demps), Joey (Adam Fields), and Pablo (David Sandlin), whose rendering of “Lady in the Long Black Dress” was an audience pleaser.

Eddie, portrayed by Abrien Nelson, is the policeman assigned to help Doloris remain safe. They are not strangers, as they were high school classmates; he had hoped for a romantic relationship at the time – and he still does.  He takes time from his official duties to sing a stirring “I Could Be That Guy.”

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_ Rachel Sadowski, Sherry Reeves Rosen, Samantha Powell and Jasmine Hurt
Rachel Sadowski, Sherry Reeves Rosen, Samantha Powell and Jasmine Hurt

Sister Act has five devoted women of different ages accountable to the Mother Superior. All sing and dance up a storm. Rachel Sandowski (Sister Mary Robert, a young postulant) is a sophomore at Jacksonville University and beautifully sang “The Life I Never Led,”one of the show’s best songs.  

Sara Beth Gerard (Sister Mary Patrick) and Susan Roche (Sister Mary Lazarus) appear on stage frequently at various local theatres.  Sara Beth had some of the funniest lines. Susan as the convent’s music director and organ player dons some hilarious sunglasses and she has a mean right cross. Rounding out the nuns were Karen Coughlin (Sister Mary Martin-Of-Tours) and Sherry Rosen (Sister Mary Theresa).

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_ With Samantha Powell, Nikolas Alexander Wendorf, Felecia Ewing, Brian K Champion and Jasmine Hurt
Samantha Powell, Nikolas Alexander Wendorf, Felecia Ewing, Brian K Champion and Jasmine Hurt

Samantha Powell as Tina and Jasmine Hurt as Michelle appeared as Deloris’s nightclub back-up singers.  

The final character was The Pope, portrayed by Neal Thorburn in a brief appearance without lines. We have seen him in many plays locally and wondered why he took such a small role. After reading his program bio in the program, we think perhaps he is trying get into the Theatre Hall of Fame. He has portrayed many religious figures in the past which included Friars, Pastors, and Priests. Now that he has added The Pope, what is left for him?

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_ Susan Roche, Rachel Sadowski, Felecia Ewing and Sara BetSister Act at Theatre Jacksonville_ Susan Roche, Rachel Sadowski, Felecia Ewing and Sara Bet
Susan Roche, Rachel Sadowski, Felecia Ewing and Sara Bet

The members of the ensemble included Brian Champion, Morgan Perry, Tara Kear, and Caroline Jaeger.

The gorgeous sets were by Technical Director Tim Watson, the great costumes by Tracy Anne Olin.

The Orchestra, tucked away backstage, was led by Musical Director Aaron DeCicco who was also on keyboard. The musicians included Stefanie Batson-Martin (Digital Piano), Brooks Clarke (Guitar), Damon Martin (Bass), and Michael Taylor (Drums).

Sister Act at Theatre Jacksonville

Additional production team members included Maria Beattie (Stage Manager); Kayla Chouinard and Neal Thorburn (Assistant Stage Managers); Savery Morgan (Choreography Assistant); John Blake and Mark Rubens (Light Board Operators); Maria Beattie (Sound Board Operator); Phoebe Fletcher and Skyler Gentry (Running Crew).

This show runs through June 23rd and tickets are going fast. The theatre is located at 2032 San Marco Boulevard, in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit theatrejax.com for additional information or call 904-396-4425 for reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.