She’s fabulous, baby. I’m referring to Tia Seay, a consistent bright spot in many featured roles transitioning into a leading lady with passion, power and purpose in the Dayton Playhouse’s highly entertaining production of Sister Act, fluidly directed by Tim Rezash.
Whether managing a trailer park, resorting to goofy antics to win quick cash, narrating on Skid Row, or ill-fatedly embracing hope at the dawn of the 20th century, Seay has delivered time and time again with vivid expression, solid stage presence and terrific vocals. So, it’s perfectly fitting she’s finally received an incredible star vehicle catered to her naturally inherent gifts of comedy and soul.
In this breezy 2011 adaptation of the 1992 hit film of the same name, featuring music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by sitcom vets Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (Cheers), Seay portrays disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling Philadelphia nightclub entertainer seeking fame in the late 1970s. When Deloris accidentally witnesses a murder at the hand of her gangster boyfriend Curtis, she’s sent to a local convent for her protection. She humorously clashes with the stern Mother Superior, but ultimately discovers the value of sisterhood when she transforms the convent’s inadequate choir into an overnight sensation.
Seay’s charm, wit and warmth is put to great use as Deloris hilariously fumbles her way through the convent lifestyle like a fish out of water. But don’t get me wrong. She’s not a jokester stuck on autopilot for two-and-a-half-hours. On the contrary, she calculatingly builds her portrayal with nuance and depth, most significantly in her beautiful rendition of the introspective title song which serves as Deloris’ epiphany. Seay also receives pleasant support from an appropriately strict and bewildered Cathy Long as Mother Superior in addition to the truly praiseworthy team of Alicia Walton as introverted Sister Mary Robert (her Life I Never Led is a tender standout), Shanna Camacho as bubbly Sister Mary Patrick, Donna Cason as no-nonsense Sister Mary Lazarus, Dawn Roth-Smith as Sister Mary Theresa (Rezash gives her a very funny stage cross), and the mostly mute Elaine Smith (who nearly brought tears to my eyes in a brief yet heartfelt exchange with Seay) as the eccentric Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours. The colorfully cohesive Nun Ensemble, bringing wonderful vibrancy to Menken and Slater’s marvelous Raise Your Voice, disco-driven Take Me to Heaven and Spread the Love Around, and lovingly Disney-flavored Bless Our Show, consists of Zenobia Curtis, Andrea Wilburn, Amber Pfeifer, Nelani Huntington, Carrin Ragland, Lindsey Cardoza, Elizabeth Lindon, Rebekah Skaroupka, Angelé Price, and Marabeth Klejna.
Interestingly, the men take a backseat in this musical (a script flaw resulting in underwritten roles), but Rezash allows each an opportunity to shine. Brian Sharp is deliciously dry as the financial-focused Monsignor O’Hara. William “Kip” Moore, memorably partnered with Seay last season in the Playhouse’s Ragtime, gives ominous weight to Curtis’ vengeance. Moore’s rendition of the lyrically clever, R&B-inspired When I Find My Baby is a real hoot. Naman Clark is delightfully earnest as insecure Eddie, the police officer overseeing Deloris’ case smitten with her ever since she led an all-black version of Funny Girl in high school. Trevaun Tolbert as TJ, William “Beau” Boatwright as Joey, and Juan Gabriel Encarnacion as Pablo are crowd-pleasers as Curtis’ kooky henchmen. Also notable are versatile Steve Strawser as Eddie and Solid Gold-esque Kiersten Farmer adding pizazz as Fantasy Dancer.
Rezash’s first-rate production team includes scenic designer Chris “Red” Newman, costumer Elaine Smith (filling the finale with glitz and glamour), lighting designer John Falkenbach, properties designer Tina McPhearson, choreographer Michael Groomes, sound designer Bob Kovach (conveying the convent’s acoustics with finesse), and musical director Ron Kindell who leads a steady nine-piece orchestra.
Bolstered by Seay’s outstanding performance, this feel-good show is a fun kickoff to the Playhouse’s 2017-2018 season. Do yourself a favor and go see Sister Act!
Sister Act continues through Oct. 1 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton.
Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors, students and military. For tickets or more information, visit www.daytonplayhouse.com.