NICEVILLE — For almost a century, the American musical theater relied on literature for inspiration. Good books inspired good musicals.
Around the 1990s, the process experienced an interesting reversal. Good films started inspiring good stage musicals. (Think "42nd Street," "Grand Hotel," "Sunset Boulevard," "Monty Python's Spamalot," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Hairspray" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.")
One of those wonderful stage adaptations of a screen hit is "Sister Act," opening Wednesday at the Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center at Northwest Florida State College.
NWFSC's summer musical is always something to look forward to. The professionalism, the scale, the lavishness, the live orchestra (especially at a time when even some Broadway shows are slipping in pre-recorded scores) and the cool dazzle on a hot summer's night are eagerly anticipated, and "Sister Act" doesn't fail to please.
The 1992 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle was a fun movie, and the stage version is just as enjoyable. It's faithful to the story, with the benefit of some real catchy tunes.
Director Joe Taylor does an outstanding job of guiding a cast of nuns, thugs, disco dancers in afros and leisure suits, a monsignor (Zachary Phillips) who looks like Woody Allen and a lovable Philadelphia cop (Jovan Richie) through a lively, visually appealing production.
It's beautifully designed, gorgeously lit, and perfectly cast, including a trio of Crestview residents who have front-and-center roles and talent to spare.
Nick Trolian, a local stage staple we loved as King Arthur in NWFSC's production of "Spamalot," makes a dandy Curtis, a sinister gangster whose moll, nightclub singer Deloris, witnesses him bumping off an informer.
Among his gangsters is his happily goofy nephew, TJ, played by Crestview High and Troy grad Shelby Steverson, who delighted audiences in last summer's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
While TJ's not a central character, Steverson gets lots of fun mugging, making him the standout of a trio of Curtis's leisure suit-clad thugs. The three include James Meadows' likable mop-topped Joey, and Division of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts co-director Dr. Jeremy Ribando as Pablo.
"Joe (Taylor) twisted my arm," Ribando said of his casting. "The show is SO much fun!"
Quite the counterpoint to her husband's character, Cathy Trolian's Mother Superior is saintly, dedicated and troubled when Philadelphia cop Eddie (played loveably by Jovan Richie) hides Deloris in her convent.
"Is there a smoking section?" the worldly Deloris asks upon arrival.
"Yes dear, and you're heading for it," the frustrated Mother Superior replies.
Diara Morris's Deloris brings this enjoyable show together and propels it along lickety split. Her broad vocal range, comedic timing and winsome personality delighted the preview audience, and her musical numbers brought down the house.
Morris had some touching moments as well, including an act two scene with Sister Mary Robert, played charmingly by Arin Walker. As she assures the novitiate she will succeed in life, Deloris gives Mary Robert her red, rhinestone-studded "FM" pumps.
"What's the FM stand for?" Mary Robert asks innocently.
"Um, I named them for Father Mulcahey, for all the good work he did in Korea," Deloris quickly covers, referencing a beloved character in Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H."
There are no lesser parts in this "Sister Act", right down to the crew, which includes visually appealing—and in the case of the convent scenes, downright gorgeous—set pieces by designer Clint Mahlie, which project, fly or glide swiftly in and out, making for seamless scene changes that don't stall the pace. Veteran tech director Bob Whittaker beautifully lit Mahlie's sets with lighting that infuses the convent scenes with heavenly glows.
Dakota Blankenship, a NWFSC alumnus, gets kudos for his awesome wigs, including towering afros for the fantasy dance number, which also allowed costumier Jennifer Boudette a chance to have some fun with 1970s fashion parodies after garbing a convent full of somberly habited nuns.
"Sister Act" is a saintly way to spend a hot summer's night. The musical runs July 19-22 at the Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center. For Heaven's sake, don't miss it!
Go to https://goo.gl/Re39kt for tickets.