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West End Theatre Project's Sister Act ensemble keeps the faith through COVID

Performances will take place March 30 to April 2 at 50 per cent capacity
2022-02-21 sister act
When it came time for rehearsals, the Sister Act cast of 28 had to continue to social distance, wear masks while singing, screen for covid symptoms, and use Zoom for larger gatherings like the read-through.

When Covid-19 restrictions threw a wrench into his rehearsal schedule, Lucas Beaver didn’t rely on prayers to save Sister Act: The Musical from hitting the stage.

The shows’ director credits a dedicated cast, good scheduling and technology as the saving grace that will bring the West End Theatre Project’s latest production to the Sault Community Theatre stage at the end of March.

“There was a slight moment where I thought, do we need to cancel this production,” said Beaver. 

“After speaking to a few people in the cast everyone still wanted to try and go forward so it was really their words of encouragement.”

That was in December, when the provincial government re-introduced capacity limits to help curb the spread of the omicron variant.

But ongoing pandemic restrictions like social distancing made preparing for this show different from the start – even the audition process had to be modified.

Instead of the usual open call, would-be cast members had to register online, and time slots were issued to limit the amount of people coming and going into the audition space.

When it came time for rehearsals, the cast of 28 had to continue to social distance, wear masks while singing, screen for covid symptoms, and use Zoom for larger gatherings like the read-through.

For in-person rehearsals, performing groups were split into smaller subgroups, with no more than the capacity limit at the time of five. 

“We were learning one of the big production numbers bringing in three nuns at a time,” said Beaver.

“They had their hour and we plunged through as much music as we could with them, then the next three came in. We were all three meters apart and we worked like that for two weeks.”

The cast was also encouraged to study their parts at home using online resources.

Working in their favor is the adaptation of the musical itself. Many of the scenes in Act 1 are built for 10 or less performers and the choreography isn’t intricate.

“A lot of the numbers in the show are dance numbers that are choreographed, but they’re more musical staging. They’re not these huge, extravagant choreography heavy production numbers,” said Beaver.

Sister Act is the first show of the West End Theatre Project’s 2022 season. Elf: The Musical is planned for later this year in November.

The musical comedy is based on the 1992 hit film that starred Whoppi Goldberg. 

It will feature music by Tony Award-winner and Academy Award-winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies).

Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, who is put into protective custody at a convent after witnessing a murder.

Disguised as a nun, she is constantly at odds with the rigid lifestyle and old-fashioned Mother Superior. Deloris breathes new life into the convent’s choir and community.

Beaver said Sister Act is just the kind of show to bring people back to the theatre with its lively musical numbers and moving story.

“The music is written in the ‘70s disco style so it really has a lot of fun to it. Some of the songs will leave you dancing in your seats, tapping your toes,” he said.

Rony Dal Cin is music director and Nancy Kinney is vocal director. Nine musicians will perform the show’s 22 musical numbers live.

Teni Araba, will lead the cast in the role of Deloris Van Cartier, along with Donna Hilsinger as Mother Superior, Nicolette Rebello as Sister Mary Robert, Sarah Skagen as Sister Mary Patrick, Jeannine Jefferson as Sister Mary Lazarus, Mary Anne Nakamura as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, Chris Mozarowski as Sister Mary Theresa, and Robb Fisher as Monsignor O’Hara. In the role of Curtis “Shank” Jackson is Logan Frech, followed by Leo Moore as Eddie, Steve Araba as TJ, Steven Skeggs as Joey, Stephen Boniferro as Pablo, Kait Tappenden as Michelle, and Kerri Findlay as Tina. 

The supporting ensemble includes Ali Edwards, Ariella D’Agostino, Elizabeth Alloi, Jane Morris, Jay Faught, Josh Filion, Kara Colynuck, Laura Nanni, Michael Poluk, Monique Lucenay, Penny Gribbon, Darla Pirillo, Sarah Jones, and Sophia Isabelle Yap.

Now that Covid capacity limits have been loosened, Beaver said rehearsals will look a lot more normal. 

He’s excited to see it all come together and said audiences can look forward to a fun show and a few hours of escape.

“That’s what theatre is about. Come in and be pulled into the story,” he said.

“We are inundated with so many negative and horrible things going on around the world and we need to counterbalance that with positive things and things that bring us joy.”

Performances will take place March 30 to April 2 at 50 per cent capacity. 

Tickets are on sale at the Sault Community Theatre box office or online at www.saultctc.ca.

Proof of vaccination and one piece of valid government issued photo identification will be required and masks will need to be worn at all times.