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Antoinette Comer. Courtesy photo.




See Sister Act

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Sept. 9 through Oct. 1
Admission: $25 to $45
Contact: 668-5588, palacetheatre.org




All the glitz
NH premiere of Sister Act

09/08/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 For the season opener and New Hampshire premiere of Sister Act, Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte wanted to go all out, with glitzy costumes, intricate sets and Broadway star Antoinette Comer in the lead role.

Rajotte said a lot of theater companies who take on the show cut some of the the details that made the 2011 Broadway hit such a spectacle, but Rajotte wanted to do it justice, particularly since the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg is so popular.
“Everyone has seen this movie. Everyone loves this movie,” Rajotte said during an interview at the theater the first week of rehearsals. “And the story is very true to the movie. The music is different — and there’s a lot more music than in the movie — but all the characters you love are there.”
Sister Act features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner. It first hit the stage in 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and is about a lounge singer put under protective custody after witnessing a crime and making a mob boss’s hit list. She hides in the last place anyone would find her — a convent — but while she’s there, she helps turn their traditional church choir into a group of rock and roll gospel singers.
Rajotte went through hundreds of submissions before finding Comer, who caught his attention with her rendition of “Raise Your Voice.”
“I had goosebumps. I knew something was there,” Rajotte said. “And she understood the humor in the role.”
She also had a great resume; she comes to New Hampshire from the Broadway stage, where she performed in Mamma Mia! One of their mutual friends is Kaleigh Cronin, who trained at the Palace as a kid and performed with Comer in A Bronx Tale in New Jersey. 
“I think it’s great, now we have kids who are on Broadway. The circle is starting to grow, giving the Palace Theatre a lot more connections, for sure,” Rajotte said.
The production’s big, with 22 actors who were cast with emphasis on character. 
“I don’t want people going away saying, well, the movie girl was way better than this girl,” Rajotte said. 
But some of the heaviest lifting is being done by the production crew for this opener. Palace costume designer Jessica Moryl has been making nun costumes for weeks, and at the last count, there were about 48 different habit styles, from traditional to red and silver sequined, all made from scratch.
For the sets, the theater hired fine and scenic artists — NHIA grad Victoria Mathews and NHIA student Maraina Roskey — plus Hannah Joy Smith, who was managing the art projects. Two weeks before showtime, they’d finished painting the stone designs for the play’s church but were still working on faux stained glass pieces and a replica of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
“We’re putting a lot of work into building things from scratch in the hopes to start renting them to other theaters across the country. Sometimes you’re making things from scratch on a penny and you hope it lasts as long as the show lasts, but we’re trying to invest a bit more time and sweat into it,” Rajotte said.
The Palace first partnered with NHIA last spring when students created a bumblebee mural on the brick wall behind the theater in an attempt to prevent graffiti.
“We had a major problem of tagging and graffiti on that back wall. We were constantly just painting over it with red. So we thought, let’s create some art here and maybe that will steer people away from it — and it 100 percent has,” Rajotte said. 
Scenic painting is a little different from fine art — you’ve got to do it faster. But so far, Palace Technical Director Morgan Cerovski said the partnership has been going over well.
“They know how to do it. They’re reliable,” Cerovski said. “And they love the opportunity to come over and use their education in a professional setting. What our ultimate goal is, is to provide work and different career opportunities for [NHIA] graduates, just to give them options for when they go into the real world. There’s a world of theater out there that requires talented people to do scenic paintings and mural paintings.”





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