By MARINA WATERS
Lead character Delores Van Cartier—as played by Eureka Inn innkeeper Katelyn Yarbrough in the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s presentation of “Sister Act”—stood in a black and white ensemble in front of her jiving squad of nuns. The club-singer-turned-nun said her newfound band of nuns were going to put the “‘sis’ back in Genesis.”
And that’s exactly what the JRT cast and crew accomplished with their comedic yet surprisingly sentimental rendition of the Whoopi Goldberg classic for family and friends night on Thursday evening.
Most know the premise of the story thanks to the 1994 hit movie about a singer who witnesses a murder by her lover and club-owner. The outspoken lead character then has to attempt to blend in amongst the group of nuns with which she is hiding in a sort of witness protection program. The story—full of booty-shaking nuns, odd-ball gangsters and one wildcard disco queen nun—stands on it’s own. But it was the cast that truly made the story come to life in Tennessee’s oldest town.
Yarbrough’s rendition of the lead character was stellar; from solid vocals on various musical numbers to first-class acting, it’s easy to forget she’s a community member and not the character she portrays. Meanwhile, the head nun, Mother Superior (played by Dawn Gentry), added a stark contrast to Yarbrough’s character and enough sass to last till the very end. And of course the wacky cast of nuns with some serious vocal abilities blended the perfect combination of comedy and talent.
“I’m just amazed that here in Jonesborough, a fairly small town, that we attract—and they don’t just come from Jonesborough—but we attract this quality of singers and dancers and actors,” Jonesborough resident and storyteller Pamela Miller said. “And it is a real asset to the community. And I just can’t say enough good about the leaders.”
It was also the cast’s use of the stage that further impressed folks like Miller who found themselves wrapped up in the story playing out in the small theatre.
“I’m amazed at how creative and how good they do with so little on the stage,” Miller said. “Because they really help the audience to use their imagination. And it’s like tonight, the audience just gets swept up in it.”
Ester Perisin, who used to be a Jonesborough resident and now resides in Chicago with her husband Gregory Perisin, enjoyed a stay at the nearby Eureka Inn. They were also dazzled by the small theatre’s ability to captivate the audience.
“I have see a community theatre before. I’ve been here at the repertory and I’ve seen the community theatre in Johnson City. So I know there is a lot of quality here,” Perisin said. “My husband is here for the first time and he was a little bit skeptical and I said there’s a lot talent in such a small town. And I think he now knows that.”
From roaring laughter at random disco-themed solos featuring characters like the club-owner’s henchmen and a love-struck policeman to the crowd’s inability to refrain from clapping on beat to a funky nun performance, the audience seemed to find themselves caught up in the show.
But it wasn’t all just laughs; Among the entertainment that stayed true to the classic story while also adding a few new dynamics, “Sister Act” also provided a lesson on friendship and sisterhood by the show’s end, bringing the story full-circle.
“I really liked the dimensions that they added and how they made the emphasis on the sisters and the relationships,” Miller said just a few feet from the cast who lined both sides of the sidewalk at the alley’s stage door. “That was the thing that carried it for me. It was their love and their willingness to stand with and for her.
“And to me, that’s part of the message of love.”
“Sister Act” will run from March 31 to April 23 at 125.5 West Main Street in Jonesborough. General admission tickets are $16, students and seniors are $14 and group rates are $12 for groups of 15 or more. Call 423-753-1010 for more information.