Jerica Exum, Antoinette Holman, Erin Churchill

Jerica Exum, Antoinette Holman, Erin Churchill

Antoinette Holman has always been a star, she just needed a vehicle to show it, and I can’t think of a better way for her to debut than as the lead of Circa’s new “Sister Act.” With its combination of sass, singing and humor, Holman is perfect for the part, and it’s her brilliant talent that’s the biggest factor in leading the show to such a triumph.
It’s not just Holman that highlights the show. It’s a terrific production in many ways I’ll get into shortly. But when you’ve got to cast a character that is in almost every scene, in a musical in which she sings the majority of the tunes and has to do so to carry the emotional weight of the production, you’d better pick the right one because your ultimate success or failure rises and falls on that decision.

Thankfully for Circa, they picked the right one. Oh, did they ever.

Holman has been a talent on the local scene for a while. She’s stolen scenes in District Theater’s “High Fidelity” and “Rocky Horror” and was a charming part of the ensemble for Circa’s kids’ show, “How I Became A Pirate.” She’s not only got the vocal chops, but she’s got a likeability and charisma that’s key in carrying a lead.

With the character of Dolores, a plucky but down-on-her-luck singer forced into the nunnery as part of the witness protection program, she’s found a perfect spot to land in her first starring part. Popularized first by Whoopi Goldberg in the film of the same name, and then taken to Broadway and beyond during the successful stage version, Dolores is a fun, complex character that’s, in the right hands, eminently charming and hilarious.

Holman inhabits the character well from the start, bringing forth her spirit and pluck, as well as her quick wit and heart. We first meet her in a disco (the show is set in the ‘70s, which is an amusing choice) where she’s auditioning for the club owner and her sometime boyfriend, a shifty criminal type named Curtis (Brandon Godfrey). After he puts her off in the audition and really peeves her with a personal faux pas, Dolores figures it’s time for her to fly and prepares walking papers for Curtis. But as she’s set to deliver them, she walks in on him delivering a different kind of walking papers, ones sent via bullet, to a suspected snitch. Not wanting another potential rat spilling the beans on him, Curtis tries to likewise ventilate Dolores, but she gets away, and through odd coincidence ends up with the police hiding her out as a nun until she can take the stand in court against her ex.

Rachelle Walljasper, Kay Francis, Bonnie Spainhower, Antoinette Holman, Kristin Gilbert

Rachelle Walljasper, Kay Francis, Bonnie Spainhower, Antoinette Holman, Kristin Gilbert

Of course, this sets up a quick clash of cultures, as the free-spirited Dolores butts heads with the uptight head of the church, Mother Superior (Autumn O’Ryan), who resents the changes she brings to the musical programs at the flagging place of worship and isn’t too keen on the charismatic leadership Dolores has brought in, pulling along the rest of the nuns, most notably the young and impressionable Sister Mary Robert (Molly McGuire) and Sister Mary Patrick (Kristin Gilbert).

It’s to the credit of O’Ryan, McGuire and Gilbert that they add some nice layers to roles that could easily be very broad caricatures. The former isn’t just a soulless stick in the mud, you can see she’s just a traditionalist who feels uncomfortable with change and isn’t quite sure how to deal with it. As for the latter, they’re daffy and batty, as you might expect, but there’s a certain sweetness to them that veers nicely away from the overly saccharine and instead feels natural. They just come across as good people you might have met at some point, rather than unrealistic saints.

Add in a solid supporting cast that features the likes of Circa regulars Tom Walljasper, Andrea Moore, Erin Churchill, James Fairchild and more, and you’ve got the backbone of a great show. Augmented by some fantastic costumes by the always reliably good Greg Hiatt, some nice sets by Kathy Voecks, strong music direction from Ron May and pitch perfect direction from Jim Hesselman, and you’ve got the makings of a terrific show.

“Sister Act” is going to draw people based on name value alone. The first few weeks are going to sell. But it’s the word-of-mouth on its quality that’s going to keep packing the seats. The first night of the run, which I attended, gained a standing ovation, well deserved. It’s going to be the first of many. I definitely recommend “Sister Act.”

“Sister Act”
Wednesday, Friday, and Saturdays evenings at 7:45 p.m., Sundays at 5:45 p.m., and Wednesday matinées at 1:30 p.m.
Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island
(309)786-7733 ext. 2

Holman halos heck of a heavenly show with Circa’s ‘Sister Act’

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