ALT hopes to take audiences to heaven with 'Sister Act' musical
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By Chip Chandler — Producer
Casting young actress ZZ Wright as the nun on the run in Amarillo Little Theatre's Sister Act might have been an act of divine providence.
Wright, who'll graduate from West Texas A&M University in the middle of the ALT run, has Sister Mary Clarence deep in her bones.
That, of course, is the name Whoopi Goldberg's Deloris Van Cartier assumes when she's on the run from the mob in the 1992 film – which Wright was well aware of long before auditioning for the role.
"I was a little bitty thing (when she first saw the film), and I was obsessed," Wright said. "Once I liked a movie, it was on a loop, and I learned all the lines."
She even replicated a dance routine from its 1993 sequel with her older sister.
"I love the movie so, so much."
She wasn't the only one. The immensely popular movie was adapted by Alan Menken (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with Douglas Carter Beane (book) into a stage musical in 2006, premiering on London's West End in 2009 and on Broadway in 2011.
ALT will open its three-weekend run of the musical at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the ALT Mainstage, 2019 Civic Circle.
In transferring the film to the stage, Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid) sent the action back in time to the 1970s.
"I always look for vocabulary that really speaks to me," Menken told Playbill before the show's Broadway opening. "I had my ear and eye on '70s pop music, disco, psychedelic soul and funk. There's a lot of fun in that music. ... In my score there are influences of Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye and Patti LaBelle."
The new music "is not going to disappoint anyone," ALT director Allen Shankles said — even those expecting the nuns to break out into Motown hits, as they do in the film.
"There was not enough music in the movie to sustain a Broadway musical," Shankles said. "Alan Menken and his crew wrote new music for the show, and it's working really well."
Beyond that, "the story is pretty much intact," Shankles said. "Deloris witnesses a murder, and they hide her in the convent to keep her safe until she can testify in court, (where) she has an adversarial relationship with Mother Superior (Christy Corder) right from the start."
Even though Wright has such fond memories of the film, the changes in musical suit her just fine.
"The '70s are my ish," Wright said. "I've always said I wanted to be 18 in the 1970s."
She's right at home on ALT's stage, Shankles said.
"ZZ was in Hairspray (in 2016) ... and we loved her charisma and her stage presence and loved working with her, so I was hoping she would audition for this show," Shankles said. "She is going to be delightful in the role. She's got great comic timing and has that sassy attitude down pat. I think our audiences are going to love her."
In all, 31 actors will bring the story to life, and the show itself is a bit of a family act, Shankles said.
No less than four duos of relatives will perform opposite each other: sisters Kelsey and Kallie Kilburn as Sister Mary Robert and an ensemble member, respectively; mother and son Laura and Ethan Worsham as Sister Mary Theresa and the mobster TJ; mother and daughter Deanna and Gracie Hurt as Sister Mozelle May and singer Michelle; and husband and wife Travis and Jeri Tidmore as Sister Mary Vincent and mobster Joey.
Shankles and his cast think audiences will go wild for the show, thanks to its mixture of humor and heart.
"Someone asked me if I thought it was blasphemous," said Corder, a minister's wife. "I don't think so. The show brings into the church people who are not church people — which is what Jesus would have done."
Performances continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, and May 18 and 19; 7:30 p.m. May 10 and 17; and 2:30 p.m. May 13 and 20.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, and $16 for children Thursdays and Sundays, and $25 for adults, $22 for students and seniors, and $18 for children Fridays and Saturdays.