Filichia Features: Sister Act JR. - Take Your Kids to Heaven

Filichia Features: Sister Act JR. - Take Your Kids to Heaven

Here’s the third jewel of the “Junior Musicals” triple crown that iTheatrics developed for Music Theatre International this summer.

After spending July miniaturizing Newsies and Matilda, Team iTheatrics took its literary pinking shears to that 2010-2011 five-time Tony nominee Sister Act.

Let’s hope that this hour-long version is approved by composer Alan Menken, lyricist Glenn Slater as well as bookwriters Douglas Carter Beane, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. If so, middle school teachers will be able to get in touch with all those local theaters that did The Sound of Music and multiple Nunsenses. Once those nuns’ habits are secured, sewing machine operators will put them under the needle for shortening.

Also helping your budget is that convents are spartan in their decor and furnishings. Choreography? If your girls aren’t natively good dancers, no problem; there need be nothing more than the nuns swaying in motion.

Slater wisely chose “Take Me to Heaven” as Deloris Van Cartier’s signature lounge-act song; the irony is that she’ll soon be taken as close to heaven as she can get: a convent.

This happens after beau Curtis Jackson has given Deloris a mink, adding “You’ll know how much you mean to me.” Yeah, we’ll see precisely how much after Deloris sees that the coat is a hand-me-down. When she storms into his office to complain, she sees him killing a turncoat.

iTheatrics director Marty Johnson wisely followed the tradition of ancient Greek theater by avoiding on-stage violence and to moving it into the wings. Musical director Daniel J. Mertzlufft showed pin-point perfect timing when slamming the top of his upright piano to emulate the gun shot.

Now Curtis feels he must kill Deloris to keep her from implicating him. Hence the convent, where Deloris can acquire some witness protection until detective Eddie Souther can get the goods on the bad guy.

Mother Superior doesn’t want the lounge-act singer whose friends are lounge lizards -- and worse. Eddie reminds her “You took a vow of charity.” She tells him “I take it back.”

She can’t, so she gives Deloris the onerous task of improving the choir of nuns who, you should pardon the expression, stink. Deloris-- Sister Mary Clarence-- teaches them the musical ropes and gives them more dynamic-sounding songs than their previous hymns to Him. “It’s the word of God,” she tells them. “Why whisper it? God can’t hear you!”

And so a different kind of soul music goes from their mouths to God’s ear.

Deloris’ statement to Mother Superior that “It’s good for the convent” shows us that she has new priorities. But the head nun remains a by-the-book authoritarian whose sensibilities fall somewhere between Captains Bligh and Queeg.

However, when Monsignor O’Hara approves the “Sunday morning fever” that means “Mass appeal was never so high.” The harsh secular realities of keeping a church financially afloat are no longer as daunting. Here, it doesn’t take a village but a convent to make a difference.

So not unlike early enemies Elphaba and Glinda, Deloris and Mother Superior come to appreciate and admire each other.

Sister Act JR. will clearly be the show for anyone whose drama club or group has many more girls than boys.

(And which one doesn’t?)

A mere six lads are truly required, only four of whom will be needed to sing lead – but just a few measures. Three boys are featured in “Lady in the Long Black Dress” – meaning nuns.

Menken and Slater really showed their substantial mettle here by writing a clever parody of those seductive Barry White songs. The lyric also underlines the moronic nature of so-called “ladykillers” who believe they can seduce any woman -- even a nun.

Aside from Eddie, all the boys will play tough guys while one will portray Eddie. Whatever this says about masculinity in our society, many boys l-o-v-e to play tough guys. That’s why so many immediately sign up to play Sharks and Jets and are less likely to audition for High Button Shoes.

So the male roles in Sister Act JR. are natural extensions of boys’ childhood games of cops ‘n’ robbers. If boys are at a true premium, girls can easily play the subsidiary detective roles.

What may be hardest of all is getting girls who naturally sing well to sing poorly. But here’s betting that they can learn to be bad.

God willing that Sister Act JR. is approved by the powers-that-be so that you’ll be staging it at your middle school sooner rather than later.

Read more Filichia Features. 

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com. His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.