The Missoula Community Theatre has lined up a season of shows that are new to the company, and only one that has been shown in Missoula before.
"It's certainly not a year of warhorses. We've not done any of these plays before," said Michael McGill, executive director of MCT Inc. Not that he minds older work, but he said these plays have different challenges for the theater and new material for the audiences.
The season opens with "Sister Act," a musical adaptation of the Whoopi Goldberg comedy that was nominated for some Tony Awards. Next up is "Elf! The Musical," which only recently was released for companies like MCT. Two comedies follow: "Calendar Girls" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the latter of which was performed by the University of Montana School of Theatre & Dance back in 2010. The season closes out in the spring with, "Newsies," another Disney musical adaptation, which has long been on McGill's wish list.
MCT wanted to open with a splashy positive musical, much like last year's hit production of "Mamma Mia!" and its greatest-hits selection of ABBA tunes.
The plot of "Sister Act" plot remains the same as the movie: A nightclub singer named Doloris (Tierra Porter) witnesses a murder and goes into hiding at a nunnery, where she helps shore up the choir.
The music is new, written by Alan Menken of Disney fame ("The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Aladdin") and lyrics by Glenn Slater (the stage version "The Little Mermaid") that ranges from disco to gospel.
The show opened on Broadway in 2011 and was nominated for a handful of Tony Awards.
McGill said of the combination of composer and book: "Put those two things together and you've got a winner."
He also liked the messages, such as finding out what's really important and valuing relationships over material things, naturally a fit for a family-oriented company.
Handling the lead role is an MCT newcomer of sorts. Porter has worked for more than two years with Missoula Children's Theatre as one its touring actor-directors, who travel around the country staging shows with schoolkids on a short turnaround. This is her first show with the community theater arm.
Porter, an Atlanta native who studied musical theater in the Southeast, takes lead vocal on about 10 numbers. McGill said her voice "brings a real powerful instrument to the table" and her "tonal quality and embellishments fit so well."
It's not just singing either. Porter said it's a "very high-energy show" in the music and movement.
"It takes a lot of discipline to able to sing your face off and dance your face off at the same time," she said. The nun habits, which are about 10 pieces, don't make any of that easier.
The choreography is by Colleen Rosbarsky, who's acted and choreographed in a wide range of productions around Missoula.
Porter said Rosbarsky has been helpful with the cast, whose ages run from 16 to 60 and up, on technique.
The cast numbers about 40 people not including the crew and orchestra. The leading parts are filled out by Amy Ellis as Mother Superior, the conservative foil to the free-spirited Doloris. Emily Morrison is the overly positive Sister Mary Patrick.
The cast members all volunteer their time for the weekslong rehearsal and production run, fitting it in between work and family time.
"When dealing with community volunteers, it always surprises and impressed me with what Missoula actually has for a talent pool or talent base, because it is quite facile," McGill said.