In the song “It’s a Business” in the musical Curtains there is the following exchange:
Actor: “… to me the theatre is a temple.”
Producer: “What? So it should only be filled on Shabbat?”
I was thinking about that exchange as I mused about last night’s production of Sister Act at Casa 0101 (FB). I’ll circle back to why this exchange resonates so in a moment, so just keep it in mind….
Last Saturday, I wrote about my seeing In The Heights at LAPC. I noted that one reason for seeing a show multiple times is to see how the show has changed over time, and to particularly see it in a different sized venue. I also noted that the LAPC performace was the third time I saw seeing Heights. This weekend is very similar. This is my third time seeing Sister Act: back in 2006, I saw the original, pre-Broadway production at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB); just over two years ago (in 2017) I saw the regional premiere of the show at Cabrillo Music Theatre, now 5 Star Theatricals (FB). Both of those were large theatres. The Casa 0101 production was our third time, and here’s why: (1) this was a chance to see the show in a significantly smaller, intimate theatre setting; (2) we love the theatrical work of Casa 0101, going back to the first show we saw there, a bilingual version of Aladdin; (3) we love what Casa 0101 is doing with its local community (actually on a par with what 5-Star does with its community). In many ways, this perhaps was the best of the three.
For those unfamiliar with Sister Act (music by Alan Menken (FB); lyrics by Glenn Slater (FB); and book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane (based on the Touchstone Picture “Sister Act” written by Paul Rudnick under the pseudonym Joseph Howard)), here’s the synopsis I wrote in 2017:
Black jive lounge singer witnesses a murder and turns police informant, and needs to go in hiding from her crime gang boyfriend. The police decide to hide her in a fading Catholic Church, amidst a superfluity (gee, and I thought the term was gaggle) of nuns. Mostly white nuns. Yeah, she won’t stand out at all. In any case, the Mother Superior objects and the two clash like oil and water. But this of course is the movies (and later, the theatre), so they must learn to love and appreciate each other. In this case, it happens by our nun-in-hiding taking over as choir director, and teaching the other nuns to repurpose 1950s and 1960s pop songs as Catholic anthems (and which, since that can’t be done in the theatre, to develop new songs that sound like 1950s and 1960s pop anthems but are not). These new songs bring new people into the church and save the church from being sold and the nuns disbursed. They also bring the spotlight to the church, leading the gangster boyfriend and his, umm, gang to figure out where the nun-in-hiding is hiding. A chase then ensues, which in the movie takes place in Las Vegas, but since the Las Vegas set was stolen by the gang from Honeymoon in Vegas, the theatre chase takes place in the nunnery itself. But in the end, everything comes together: the convent is saved, the Mother Superior and the nun-in-hiding grow to appreciate each other, the nun-in-hiding falls in love with the cop-who-hid-her (who had a crush on her in high school — fancy that!), and the gangsters, as in any show, turn into song-and-dance-men.
So that brings us back to how I started this: Theatre being a temple, and how (so to speak) to get its worshippers to fill the pews so the doors don’t close. Casa 0101 is a community theatre; a vital beating homegrown heart in the community of Boyle Heights (so much so that, at our performance, we had the monsignor and a few nuns from the local Catholic church seeing the show). It went through hard times quite recently, and almost closed its doors. What kept it alive were donors that believed its mission and purpose, as well as musicals like this. Just like Deloris Van Cartier’s music brought the people into Queen of Angels church and saved it, musicals like this, cast to reflect the diversity of the Boyle Heights community, had this theatre packed to the rafters. From what I understand, it was similar for 0101’s recent Beauty and the Beast, and we certainly saw it in the recent Remembering Boyle Heights. No, there are no actors hiding in the theatre from the police across the street (that we know of), but wonderful music is drawing them in and saving a temple to the arts.
Casa 0101’s production of this was distinctly different that other productions I’ve seen. The Pasadena Playhouse had the funding to do a production with elaborate sets. Cabrillo/5-Star had less funds, but prides itself on doing Broadway caliber regional productions. This production was much more shoestring and worn (at least in terms of sets), just like one imagines Queen of Angels to be: A basic quasi-gothic church set, heavy use of projections to adapt that set as locations change, and basic theatrical props (boxes, tables, benches) do the rest. The glitz in this production comes not from the set, but from the costumes (with heavy use of sequins and glitter) and the performances (which were stunning). The intimate theatre setting of Casa 0101 (under 99 seats) means that you are upclose with the actors, permitting you to watch their faces and performances closely, and to observe not just the lead characters but to see the performances of the nuns in the background. What you’ll see is not just strong leads, but a strong overall cast who have become one with their characters (credit here goes not just to the actors, but to the director Rigo Tejeda (FB)).
The closeness that comes with intimate theatre also changes the emphasis. When you sit back at a significant distance: as you typically do at the Playhouse or the Kavli (5-Star’s home) or at the Pantages (if you saw the touring production), you focus on the big picture — and this makes the flaws in the story stand out. At the intimate level, the actors and performances take center stage (so to speak), and there is so much additional humor in the facial expressions and movements of the actors that the distances of the big theatres filter out. Affording yourself the opportunity to see a big production in a small venue is a treat, and something to remember.
Another thing that struck us about this production was the quality of performance. This is something we’ve seen again and again at this theatre, and it is one of the reasons we’re really growing to like Casa 0101 as a venue. They are doing shows about the community, as well as musicals we like (I’d like to have more musicals I haven’t seen, but that’s getting harder). For the last two seasons we had subscribed at Chromolume Theatre in the West Adams district — another historically underserved area. Chromolume closed their doors for good back in May (their final production was The Story of My Life for HFF18), and we have been debating where we might subscribe instead. Casa 0101 is on the short list of candidates (esp. as the mission of our other small theatre subscription is increasingly uncomfortable, even though they do good work). Theatre should inspire, and it is important to have venues that do that for the community, as well as for the actors in the company.
Lastly, despite the stereotypes and tropes in the plot (which is not the most intellectual), this is a very very funny story. This was my third time seeing it — and I’ve seen the movie even more — and I was still laughing at how this cast executed the well-known story. They brought out additional levels of humor from the story — yet again a reason to see this production in an intimate theatre setting.
Under the direction of Rigo Tejeda (FB), with choreography by Tania Possick (FB), the production scintillates. This team has helped each actor inhabit their characters and become playful with the character in ways that fit the character. That means one sister is extra giggly, the other perhaps more demure. The movement was reasonably complex and appeared to fit the time period (although, admittedly, I wasn’t out dancing back then … or even now).
In the lead position was Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield (FB) as Deloris Van Cartier / Sister Mary Clarence. Schofield was clearly having fun with the role, and handled all aspects — performance, movement and singing — well. She captured well both the outsized personality that was Deloris before, as well as the changes that convent life brought to her. She was also able to capture both the outsize and tender aspects of the songs as well.
Playing against her, as Mother Superior, was Beverly Crain (FB). Crain gets less of the outsized numbers, but does have some tender songs. What was fun to watch with Crain was her face and reactions when Mary Clarence was doing some of her more outrageous activities. They were hilarous, and made clear that she was doing more than just reading lines — she was living the role.
Deloris’ non-spiritual savior (and eventual love interest) was Caleb Green (FB) as Det. Eddie Souther. Green captured the timidity of the character well and had some good comic — as well as some good touching — moments. However, he was plagued with a microphone that kept changing amplification levels, and this translated to some problems with his songs and vocals.
The bad guys (who were more comic relief than truly threatening) were portrayed by Marco Infante (⭐FB, FB) Curtis Jackson; Matthew Noah (FB) T. J.; Jason Biyo (⭐FB, FB) Joey; and Gil Garcia (FB) Pablo. All were great with the humor, and Infante was strong in “When I Find My Girl”. My wife pointed out that Infante had a costuming problem: back in the 1970s, one would have worn either a tie or chains with an open shirt, but not both a tie and chains. I particularly enjoyed the comic interplay between Noah, Biyo, and Garcia (although the fight sequence could have used a bit more fight choreography during the chase). Noah, in particular, was really funny as T.J.
This brings us to the main contingent of nuns, who it is sometimes hard to tell apart. The extremely bubbly nun was Sister Mary Patrick, played by Briana Bonilla (⭐FB, FB). The older sardonic nun was Sister Mary Lazarus, played by Dorrie Braun (FB). The oldest nun was Sister Mary Theresa, played by Megan Frances (⭐FB, FB). The younger nun, lost in her own world, was Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, played by Sarah J. Garcia (FB). Lastly, of the named nuns, the novitiate was Sister Mary Robert, played by Samantha M. Lawrence (⭐FB, FB). All of the nuns were strong singers and performers, and did an excellent job of embodying their characters. Particularly strong was Bonilla’s bubbly Mary Patrick, the exceptional singing voice of Lawrence, and the humorous deadpan of Braun’s Mary Lazarus. Of course, Frances’s rap wasn’t bad either. They were all very strong.
Omar Mata (FB) captured the authority of Monsignor O’Hara quite well, although he needs to work on his Irish 😁.
Rounding out the cast, in multiple smaller ensemble roles, were Chrissi Erickson (FB) Tina, Nun, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Laura Altenor (⭐FB; FB) Michelle, Nun, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Michael Gallardo (FB) Ernie, Drag Queen, Ensemble, Homeless, Cab Driver, Fantasy Dancer; Alejandro Lechuga (FB) Cop, Reporter, Ensemble, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer; Shanelle Garcia (FB) Nun, Hooker; Daniela Santi (FB) Nun, Hooker, Homeless, Bar Waitress, Fantasy Dancer; and Leilah Telon (FB) Nun, Bar Patron, Homeless, Fantasy Dancer. Of these folks, I’d like to highlight a few. Altenor’s facial expressions were wonderful in reaction, especially when there were lines commenting on Delores’ ethnicity. She also sang and moved well. Santi was another ensemble standout: there was just something about her look, her face, and the fun she was having that was great to watch. Lastly, Gallardo and Lechuga were hilarious as the clearly gay choir boys — yes, a bit stereotypical, but funny none-the-less.
Music direction was by Gabrielle Maldonado (FB), although the remainder of the orchestra was not credited in the program. Tsk, tsk.
Lastly, we turn to the production and creative side of the equation. The set designs and projections were by Effy Yang (FB). The sets worked well for an intimate theatre: doors and stairs designed for projections. The problem was with the focus of the projections, which ended up with double and blurry images. Focused, they would have been great. Angel Estrada (FB)’s properties supported the design well, and were creative within the limited budget of intimate theatre. Marielena Covarrubias (FB)’s costumes were, from a distance, good. For those who knew the details, they were a bit more problematic: my wife noted that Curtis Jackson would not have worn both a tie and chains; she also noted (and this is coming from a Jewish girl, who grew up in Tucson) that the wimples needed to be folded correctly, and the nuns other than the novitiate needed wedding rings (they are figuratively married to Christ). The lighting by Kevyn Vasquez (FB) captured the time and mood well, and Joshua Cardenas (FB)’s sound, modulo the one microphone problem, worked well. Other production credits: Jerry Blackburn (FB) Production Stage Manager; Andrew Ortega (FB) Stage Manager; Genesis Miramontes (FB) Prod. Asst / Asst Stage Manager; JP (John Paul) Torres (FB) Asst Stage Manager; Michael Gallardo (FB) Dance Captain; Hiram Lopez (FB) Sound Mixer; Jorge Villanueva (FB) Relief Board Operator; Sujey Gonzalez (FB) Wardrobe Supervisor; Dazhane Demus (FB) Stagehand; Ed Krieger (FB) Production Photos; Steve Moyer Public Relations Publicity; Conrado Terrazas (FB) Executive Producer.
Sister Act: The Musical continues at Casa 0101 (FB) for two more weekends, until May 19, 2019. The show is a lot of fun with a really talented cast. Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
The second weekend of May brings Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The third weekend of May brings The Universe (101) at The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita (we loved it at HFF18), as well as The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB). May closes with two concerts: Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB) and Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes (FB) … and that’s not even the weekend. The last weekend of May will see me at Bronco Billy – The Musical at Skylight Theatre (FB).
June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:
In terms of non-Fringe theatre (which, yes, does exist): Currently, the first weekend of June is open (Fringe previews start the next week), and the end of June also brings Indecent at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on June 28, just before the busy last weekend of Fringe.
As for July, it is already filling up. Although the front of the month is currently open, July 20 brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.