by Meghan D'Souza
Amana - Molly Hammer hit the nail on the head again.
As the star in the one-woman musical Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class, she carried the show beautifully. Anyone who had the treat of seeing her as Patsy Cline in Always, Patsy Cline will know this is an actress who can carry a whole show.
Sister Robert Anne approaches the audience as attendees of a class on how to put on a cabaret. Director Meg Merkens does help the show roll on as the whimsical principal Mrs. Doyle who hands out Catholic-related prizes to audience participants; these are gifts anyone who grew up attending Catholic school can especially appreciate. As Hammer explains the concepts of a set, pacing, and set-up for jokes, she does wonderfully with those very techniques. The stage is set as what Sister Robert Anne explains is a multipurpose room for the school. It is a classroom, gym, and stage, she says, explaining why there is a teacher's desk, basketball hoop, and a backdrop covered in windows for the middle school's performance of "Windows to Heaven."
Music lovers will truly enjoy this show. Hammer's beautiful voice is perfect for the role as she sings a wide variety of songs, from rock to religious to country. Accompanying Hammer on the keyboard is musical director Ian Zahren, camouflaged as a monk taking his vow of silence. Although he is generally to blend in with the background, he stays in character during the entire show. How one stays in character as a silent monk is difficult to explain until you actually witness this.
As stated, Hammer is given the task of encouraging audience participation. This involves improvisation on her part, along with handling the unexpected. While the audience can be shy about responding or joining her on stage, she knows how to roll with the punches while remaining in character, a feat I find impressive. The audience was also pleased with the results by the show's end.
The pacing, comedic timing, and Hammer's talented vocals keeps the musical moving fast. My date and I were surprised to see that an hour and a half had flown by when it felt like we had just gotten to the Iowa Theatre Artists Company. As the saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun," and we should have known a pairing like director Merkens with Hammer would make time fly.