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Playhouse picks musical ‘Sister Act’ to open season

Playhouse picks musical to open season

The musical "Sister Act" opens Friday for a two-weekend run at Youngstown Playhouse. (Submitted photo)

The musical “Sister Act’ is based on the 1992 hit film starring Whoopi Goldberg, but don’t expect a carbon copy of the movie when it opens Friday at the Youngstown Playhouse for a two-weekend run to open its 2022-23 season

The basic premise remains the same — a singer goes into hiding at a convent after witnessing a murder, and while there, she energizes the church’s choir and learns some lessons herself along the way.

The stage version doesn’t rework pop songs from the past and play off the different interpretation they get when sung by nuns. Director and music director Emma Wason said that was a surprise to her when she first heard about the musical during its Broadway run in 2011-12, when it received five Tony Award nominations, including best musical, best book and best score.

“When I first became aware of it, I didn’t know the music is different,” she said. “I was a little bit surprised. I expected to hear ‘I Will Follow Him’ and that’s not what you hear. Alan Menken is the composer, and he’s an award-winning composer and wrote this incredible music that adds to the emotion and the themes of the musical. It makes you laugh and advances the plot.”

Menken, who wrote the songs with lyricist Glenn Slater, is an Oscar and Tony winner whose credits include “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Newsies” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The music also shifts the time frame of the story to the 1970s, which adds a disco-era influence to those Menken-Slater songs.

“It adds to the entertainment value,” Wason said. “It makes the choreography very fun to do and watch. Changing the timeframe of the story adds to it visually and musically.”

Wason believes the changes have improved on the original.

“While I’m a fan of the movie, what I love so much about the musical is the wonderful sense of self-realization and sisterhood,” she said. “It really speaks to me. It takes the time to add dimensions to a lot of the characters. Sister Mary Robert, one of my favorite characters in the movie, has this moving ballad that really pulls at your heartstrings.”

The cast features Nikita R. Jones, Amy Burd, Wayne Bonner III, Elizabeth Huff, Jenny Long, Caitlin Overton, Arcale Leighton Peace, Terry Shears, Keri Jennings, Haggy Hageman, Bobby Brown, Nathan Beagle, Wilfredo Luciano, Aaron Holden, Allyson Wenger, Breanne Reda, Madison Knepper, Connie Nail-Benner and Patti Shears.

“Because they know it’s a female-heavy show, we had a lot of very talented women come out to be a part of this,” Wason said.

This is Wason’s first time directing at the Playhouse, and she said she had to adjust her blocking to the larger stage. But it also allowed for more space to stage a show that takes places in multiple locations that require many set changes.

“I had a vision for what I wanted,” Wason said. “I turned to Tom Hitmar, who is a fantastic set designer. He came up with a fantastic concept for this, and everyone at the Playhouse executed it beautifully.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Sister Act”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 2

WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $17 to $27 and are available online at youngstownplayhouse.org and by calling 330-788-8739.

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