When theatergoers take their seats in Lake City Playhouse, they’ll be in modern day Coeur d’Alene. As soon as the curtains open, however, they’ll be in 1977 Philadelphia.
The disco-era setting change comes courtesy of Lake City’s season opener “Sister Act,” which opens Friday.
“Sister Act,” a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg-led comedy film of the same name, follows singer Deloris Van Cartier (Alyssa Jordan) who is forced to enter the witness protection program after seeing her boyfriend Curtis (Matthew Day) and his crew – TJ (Dominick Betts), Joey (Josh Myers) and Pablo (Easton Townsend) – shoot someone.
Eddie (Josh Koester), the police station desk chief and Van Cartier’s school friend, places her in a convent, where Mother Superior (Callie McKinney Cabe) quickly tells Van Cartier about all she can’t do as a nun.
Despite initially disliking the situation, Van Cartier grows close to the other nuns as she helps revamp their choir.
The cast also includes Elizabeth Martin (Sister Mary Robert), Alyssa Day (Sister Mary Patrick), Lauralynn Stafford (Sister Mary Lazarus), Olivier Moratin (Monsignor O’Hara), Julie Beeman (Sister Mary Theresa), Suzie Ratelle (Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours), Brady Magruder (Magnum/Ensemble), Nicholas Griep (Tron/Ensemble), Darrell Beeman (Pope Paul VI), and Jenner Davis, Nicole Delbridge, Kezia Rhodes and Mackenzie Ross (ensemble).
Director Lance Babbitt decided to produce “Sister Act,” which closed on Broadway in 2013, because it has never before been produced in the area.
“I wanted to have a new challenge, and it’s been joyous because other than the movie, the preconceived notions aren’t there,” he said. “Nobody knows what this is supposed to sound like or look like or how it moves. That’s been really fun.”
When casting the musical, which features music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Newsies,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (“The Little Mermaid,” “School of Rock,” “Tangled”), Babbitt knew singing ability would be at the forefront.
For the role of Van Cartier, he needed to find someone who could handle both sacred and secular music. The nuns’ music is quite difficult, too, so he needed to make sure the actresses had the range to pull it off.
“First and foremost, it’s a musical and I was always taught the most brilliant acting in the world is lovely, but if they can’t sing the songs, I’m going to lose the audience,” Babbitt said.
Babbitt called the group of actresses playing nuns delightful and said the group has really taken on their roles, becoming a solid unit during rehearsals.
“They go outside and rehearse together,” he said. “They’ve done arts and crafts projects together. It’s fun to watch that happen, to see 19-year-old girls and 45- and 50-year-old women doing something together.”
This coming together, mirrored onstage as Van Cartier and the nuns realize that they aren’t as different as they initially thought, is another reason Babbitt was drawn to the musical, which, with both sweet and humorous moments, he calls a perfect evening of theater.
“It’s what we need at these times,” he said. “That was the other thing that probably drew me to it, it will be timely no matter when we tell it. It’s about change. For me, it’s fun to tell that story.”
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