Spectacular songs and a touch of church in ‘Sister Act’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

The heartwarming musical is full of ‘holy’ excitement.

Holy Humor! Singer Deloris Van Cartier, on the lam from gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson, takes refuge in a convent. That’s the premise of Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s spectacular, high-energy musical Sister Act. The show is based on the 1992 motion picture of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg and Harvey Keitel and features a book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater.

Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick has directed a heartwarming show that audiences will adore. Ross Scott Rawlings’ musical direction superbly matched the singing and dance moves.

Deloris (Ashley Johnson-Moore) and the Queen of Angels nuns in ‘Sister Act.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

Ashley Johnson-Moore as Deloris Van Cartier was the energetic backbone of the show. All her scenes crackled with perfectly timed cues. Her powerful voice floored the audience with “Take Me to Heaven,” “Fabulous, Baby,” and the titular “Sister Act.” Johnson-Moore was Helen Hayes nominated for Best Supporting Performance for Ghost.

Gerald Jordan played a cop and Cartier’s love interest, Eddie Souther. He had the audience swaying and clapping to “I Could Be That Guy,” an ode to missing out on love with Cartier in high school. His Toby’s credits include “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Ryan Holmes was menacing and funny as Curtis Jackson (his Janine Sunday–designed, Sam-Jackson-in-Pulp-Fiction-jheri-curl-like wig was enough to intimidate anyone). In the song “When I Find My Baby,” his murderous and somewhat cringy lyrics came across as somewhat amusing.

Much of the comedy of the show was enhanced by Jordan B. Stocksdale, Brian Dauglash, and Anwar Thomas as Curtis’ small-time henchmen Joey, Pablo, and TJ respectively. They hilariously bragged about how they would seduce the nuns into giving Cartier up in the tune “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” I have to give another shoutout to Sunday for the living-breathing-organism that was Stocksdale’s mullet-styled wig. (One wonders if the mullet wig is kept in a cage and properly fed.)

TOP: Eddie and Deloris (Gerald Jordan and Ashley Johnson-Moore); BOTTOM: Joey, Pablo, and TJ (Jordan B. Stocksdale, Brian Dauglash, and Anwar Thomas) in ‘Sister Act.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell Photography.

Asia-Ligé Arnold, last seen in Toby’s Escape to Margaritaville, played Michelle, one of Cartier’s background singers. She excelled in the opening number “Take Me to Heaven.” Another Margaritaville alum, Valerie Adams Rigsbee, brought Sister Mary Patrick to life. I liked her in “Raise Your Voice.”

MaryKate Brouillet, as Sister Mary Robert, displayed lovely pipes in the standout “The Life I Never Led.” David James had a short but memorable role as the unfortunate small-time thug Ernie. He also had another role as a rambunctious drag queen.

The incomparable Robert Biedermann, who has been in at least half a hundred Toby’s productions, did double duty as Monsignor O’Hara and preshow warmup. Convent life was explained in “Here Within These Walls” by Mother Superior, as sung by Lynn Sharp-Spears.

David A. Hopkins’ scenic design was minimal, consisting of scenery wagons flown in by the actors; the set whispered “less is more.” I was impressed by the stained-glass windows tucked in the corners.

Hopkins and Jimmy Engelkemier’s projection design, which played on several small screens in the theater-in-the-round, seemed a bit dark. Sarah King and Carrie Seidman’s costume designs evoked Philadelphia in the late 1970s.

This show is perfect for families and other large groups. As it’s dinner theater, you’ll get food, songs, and a bit of church. A great time will be had by all.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Sister Act plays through November 5, 2023, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD. Tickets ($57–$79) can be purchased by calling 410-730-8311 or online.

The playbill for Sister Act is online here.

The menu is here.

Sister Act
Book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner (additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane)
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater

Deloris Van Cartier: Ashley Johnson-Moore
Tina: Patricia “Pep” Targete
Michelle: Asia-Ligé Arnold
Curtis Jackson: Ryan Holmes
Joey: Jordan B. Stocksdale
Pablo: Brian Dauglash
TJ: Anwar Thomas
Ernie: David James
Eddie Souther: Gerald Jordan
Cop: Jeffrey Shankle
Mother Superior: Lynn Sharp-Spears
Monsignor O’Hara: Robert Biedermann
Sister Mary Patrick: Valerie Adams Rigsbee
Sister Mary Robert: MaryKate Brouillet
Sister Mary Lazarus: Lynne Sigler
Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours: Jane C. Boyle
Ensemble: Asia-Ligé Arnold, Adrienne Athanas, Brandon Bedore, Tina Marie DeSimone, Lydia Gifford, Patrick Gover, David James, Jeffrey Shankle, Patricia “Pep” Targete

Director/Choreography: Mark Minnick
Musical Direction: Ross Scott Rawlings
Scenic Design: David A. Hopkins
Projection Design: David A. Hopkins and Jimmy Engelkemier
Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin
Sound Design: Mark Smedley
Costume Design: Sarah King and Carrie Seidman
Wig Design: Janine Sunday


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