Zuri Washington is Delores Van Cartier on her way to Heaven in Sister Act. All Photos Courtesy Westchester Broadway Theatre by John Vecchiolla
WPCNR STAGE DOOR. First Rushes Theatre Review by John F. Bailey. April 13, 2018:
I just love young talent with all the future before them, just out there– seizing it!
They just take something old and dated wrangle it make it their own and SO new at the same time. The right star can make it shine. Zuri Washington is that performer.
Zuri Washington, takes over the Whoopi Goldberg role as Delores Van Cartier a disco singer on the run, hiding in a convent. She stars in the musical Sister Act based on the old Touchstone movie.She takes WBT audience higher and higher beating on your disco soul with a big bass drum.
Her lift-you-to-the sky crystal stained glass voice never quits and just fills the place with light that shivers the soul. I’d love to hear her sing in a real cathedral!
She Out-Dianas Ross, matches Donna Summer,and “Audra’s” McDonald. But she’s Zuri, Zip, Zing and Ginger—A new Diva for All Seasons. Lookout Broadway here she comes!
You can see her now and the rest of her Nuns who are knockout comics, mimics and shimmyettes like My Sister Kate. Look for the little redheaded nun’s (Lani Corson, far right) great solos of The Life I Never Led while delivering completely believable character growth from timid to total confidence.
The Monsignor O’Hara (played over the top by Ken Jennings) is a hilarious Catholic evangelist emcee especially when hosting the “Resurrection Fund” campaign (I loved that bit).
Mary Jo McConnell is the Mother Superior above is the Perfect Foil with attitude and correctitude with great tension and chemistry with Ms. Washington.
Sister Act has no overture. The disco beat starts deep grabs you deep with the pitch perfect Hustle parishioners in the WBT Band led by Bob Bray, with Jim Bowen, James Mack, Jordan Janez, Brian Uhl, Steven Bleifess, Wayne Teissa throbbing with that gotta-move-and-flow feeling bringing it all back.
Out struts and shimmies Ms. Washington singing Fabulous Baby about being bold and fabulous and a goddess and a star and boom! You’re back in Studio 54, the Limelight and those disco palaces of the 80s as she dances in her manager’s night club hoping for a big break.
When she stumbles on her manager (the menacing Philip Michael Baskerville) rubbing out a police informant. She has to go on the lam where an old school friend Eddie Souther, played engagingly by Danny Wilfred, gets an idea he can hide her in Queen of Angels convent.
Ms. Washington has The Bronx style and attitude and confidence that just is not going to work in Mother Superior’s tight ship of nuns. Smoking, taking two nun pals to a bar. Well, Zuri’s Delores Van Cartier is stirring up the nuns. Mother Superior assigns her to the choir because of her musical talent.
The nuns inform Delores in the very cute song, It’s Good to Be A Nun. But can’t take the diva out of the new nun.
Ms Washington takes the very dainty choir of nuns and sings you’ve got to Raise Your Voice, culminating in the signature song of the show Take Me to Heaven, (I wanted to take Brenda Starr sitting next to me out on the dance floor and give her a spin.)
Take Me to Heaven is a must-see-number. Never have I seen a WBT ensemble enjoy a number so much, work so hard, and dance out to the edge of the audience. All the steps, the gowns (habits in red, fabulous swank “habits with habadashery.”) Admiration to the former disco queen who put these threads together and cornered the spangles exchange,(Heather Carey)
The newest sound of the Queen of Angels Choir around coming out of the Queen of Angels church, which is in danger of being sold, starts to fill up the pews.
The show builds in Act II, with tense momentum. Monsignor O’Hara romps about in a red and white pastor’s robes with a microphone in between versions of Sunday Morning Fever performed by Zuri and the discoing nuns. Mass was never like this!
However a television appearance of the swinging nuns alerts the hoods looking for Delores where she is. They come to get Delores in the church and the nuns protect Delores. How does it all end up? Smashingly!
Special kudos to all the cohesive high energy actors, especially to the redheaded nun in the third row in the choir, Lani Corson (Sister Mary Robert) who does terrific solos on The Life I Never Led with her full rousing rising voice with emotional edge that carves out the essence of yearning, regret and resolve.
Donna Drake directed and choreographed the works and never has disco dancing entertained as strongly as this one here. Ms. Drake she made the show move—like Dancing With the Stars, ladies and gentlemen. Hand me down my white tuxedo, next week I’m coming back for more.
Jayson Elliot as Joey is hysterical in his come-on-to-women moves in act II as are his buddies Corben Williams as TJ and Jason Long as Pablo, who keep the audience chuckling at their long ago popular disco postures. You’ll remember some of these guys’ moves, guys, much to your embarrassment.
So Father John recommends you say a dozen Hail Zuri’s and see this show.
You’ll boogie all night after this mass. The only extravagance missing is communion at intermission.
Zuri Washington was so thrilled after the final number, as the applause rained down on the performers, she stretched out both her arms saying, (to the audience),
“You guys are fabulous. Just fabulous.”
That’s because she was. And is. And all the other performers, too.
Sister Act plays the WBT through July 1. For box office information go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com or call (914) 592-2268.