Rant ‘N’ Roll: Caught Between Heaven And Hell

EASTON, PA—That age-old conundrum of God versus the Devil came up recently when I had to decide whether to go see Marilyn Manson at the Sands in Bethlehem or Sister Act at the State Theatre in Easton. Manson’s satanic aesthetic held sway since one of his recent interviews included enough of his onstage shock value history to woo me into his audience, but the State has better sound than the Sands so I opted for the more heavenward entertainment.

I made the right decision.

Set in 1970s Philadelphia instead of the original 1990s Reno, Deloris Van Cartier (Kerissa Arrington) has to hide in a cloister of nuns because she witnessed her gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Kolby Kindle) murder a man. She butts heads with Mother Superior (Maggie Clennon Reberg) before winning over the long-repressed nuns who are just dying to break out to dance and sing. OR, on another level, the establishment, as personified by the stiff white Mother Superior, has to come to grips with Feminist Black Power, complete with funky soul and a great voice.

Thus is the premise of Sister Act, and, brother, let me tell you: they worked hard up on that grand State Theatre stage. These traveling theatrical road shows are the equal of Broadway if given the right venue. Hilarious and non-stop, complete with strobes, flashing lights, gunshots, ballsy choreography, 19 songs that play off the dichotomy of the secular versus the spiritual and even “in jokes” that the practicing Christians in the audience howled at.

Since I am a foreigner to this landscape, I found the whole event totally charming and, of course, rooted for the protagonist. You could even take this into another realm: that of the hippie versus the establishment. The hippie wins! The establishment knuckles under to the sexy, singin’, dancin’ hot-lookin’ sinner who, admittedly, finds her inner parishioner in coming back even after her threat is gone.

Kudos to Arrington who infuses the original Whoopi Goldberg cinematic part with rabid rebellion. Plus she sings. (Whoopi’s a co-producer of this tour.) Also kudos to Lawrence Dandridge, who, as the gangster’s nephew TJ, in a limited role, channels a young Richard Pryor to a T in physicality, movement and facial expression. Highlight songs include the laugh-out-loud funny “It’s Good To Be A Nun” and “The Life I Never Led,” which gives Sister Mary Robert (Emily Kay Shrader) a bring-down-the-house moment in crying out to experience a little life apart from her habit.

The State Theatre—as haunted as it might really be—has been around since 1873. (The ghost even has a name: Fred, but that’s another column.) Its granite facade and foyer are from its original construction as a bank. Its innards are beautiful, complete with bare-breasted beauties in bronze on the ceiling. Upcoming shows include the Red Hot Chilli Pipers (Feb. 27), Jesse Cook (March 5), Tango Buenos (March 6), “The Stars of Craft” (a beer sampling of over 60 different brews on March 7), The National Dance Company Of Ireland (March 8), ABBA Mania (March 13), The Fab Faux (March 14), Bobby Collins (March 20), Jim Witter “The Piano Men” (Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel on March 21), “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (March 25 & 26), “Guys And Dolls” (April 1).

Plus, in the adjoining Acopian Ballroom on March 25, ex-Wings lead guitarist Laurence Juber and Martin Guitars’ Dick Boak will be joined by Craig Thatcher and Nyk Van Wyk for “Guitarmania To Beatlemania: The Evolution Of The Acoustic Guitar” which will include a concert and an interactive multi-media presentation of the 178-year-old Martin Guitars history. Martin is based nearby Nazareth and its museum and factory tour (where you see craft-folk in action) is phenomenal.