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'Sister Act' to open Peoria Players' season

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Some people may not think there is much humorous about nuns, particularly those who went to Catholic schools at a time that nuns made up the ranks of teachers. But theatre has never hesitated to create nuns who are allowed to let their hair down while still doing the good works we expect of them.

“Sister Act,” the musical that kicks off Peoria Players Theatre’s 2015-16 season, is one of those plays, with nuns who learn to be ‘with it’ while maintaining their stellar ways. It’s fun and funny, with some good music and dialogue and yet, with a message all of us should think about, said Peggy Breaux Hupp, who is directing the show.

“This show has so much to offer audiences, I’ve loved it ever since it came out and that’s why I wanted to direct it,” Hupp said just before a recent dress rehearsal.

“Sister Act,” which opens a seven-show run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the theatre at University and Lake streets, is making its regional premiere with this Peoria Players production. That was another positive factor for Hupp, who directed “Brigadoon” at Corn Stock Theatre this summer.

“I wanted to do something that hasn’t been done around here before. You can get more creative that way without the tendency to copy something somebody else did,” she said.

“Sister Act” was written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. It tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a night club singer who aspires to the big time until she witnesses a murder. For her protection she goes to a convent called The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith to hide out.

What happens when she tries to blend in with the nuns who range in age from 25 to 72 with a whole range of personalities, including having to change her entire lifestyle, is simply comedic. Along the way, however, Deloris – who has become Sister Mary Clarence – teaches the nuns that life doesn’t have to be only black-and-white.

“I love the story,” Hupp said. “Each nun is a far different person at the start of the show than at the end. By the end of the show they would all take a bullet for Sister Mary Clarence. That’s how much they come to love her.

“She is different, too, because she realizes no one has to be alone in the world. She learns the importance of sisters, people who are there for her no matter what. That’s an important message,” she said.

Songs from the show include “Take Me to Heaven,” “When I Find My Baby,” “Raise Your Voice,” “The Life I Never Had,” and “Sister Act.”

Mary Irby Moore, who recently finished a run in the company of “The Color Purple” at Corn Stock Theatre, portrays Deloris in his first lead role on a Peoria stage. “She is terrific. She is Deloris,” Hupp said.

Other nuns are Wendy Blickenstaff as Mother Superior, Lyndsay Byers as Sister Mary Roberts, Julie Simmons as Sister Mary Patrick, Shannon Orrill as Sister Mary Lazarus, Jo Sternberg as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, and Mary Amberg as Sister Mary Theresa. There are 12 other nuns, as well.

Other characters are Greg Blume as Monsignor O’Hara, Vance Jordan as Curtis (Deloris’s boyfriend who is after her),  Holly Haines, who also was music director for the show, portrays Tina, and Anthony Hendricks, who portrayed Judas in the recent Eastlight Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is Eddie the cop.

Maggie Sloter directs the orchestra and Danny Fisher choreographed the show.

“Sister Act” was first a hit movie that starred Whoopi Goldberg, who became one of the executive producers for the musical. Goldberg portrayed Deloris in the 1992 film and spent some time as Mother Superior in the London production of the musical.

Hupp said it was the film that she first fell in love with, but now believes the musical script is even funnier than the film. “I’m very happy I did it. It’s such a fun show and the cast keeps adding little things here and there as we go along that makes it even funnier. They crack me up,” she said.

“Sister Act” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 13 and 20. Tickets are $19 for adults and $12 for students 20 and under. They can be purchased online at www.peoriaplayers.org or ordered by calling 688-4473.

"Sister Act" will be followed in the 2015-16 season by the regional premiere of "The Addams Family," directed by Travis Olson, opening Oct. 9; "Cinderella Enchanted Eidition" directed by Mary Ellen Ulrich, opening Nov. 13; "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," directed by Chip Joyce and opening Feb. 5; "To Kill a Mockingbird," directed by Laura Garfinkel and opening March 11; and "Hairspray," directed by Jeremy Kelly, opening May 6.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).