They have found new levels of fun and play in “Sister Act,” the musical that was such a hit at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres 18 months ago that they had to bring it back.
Its star, Regina Marie Williams, sparkles not simply because of Michael Brindisi’s highly carbonated direction, Rich Hamson’s diva costumes or Sue Ellen Berger’s pinpoint lighting.
Williams has elevated her game in her must-see, tour-de-force return as Deloris Van Cartier, the Donna Summer/Tina Turner-like singer who learns a thing or two and transforms the out-of-tune sisters in the nunnery where she hides from her murderous boyfriend.
But while she commands the stage with poise and power, the show is a thorough delight from top to bottom, whether it’s Norah Long’s Julie Andrews-meets-deadpan performance as Mother Superior, Britta Ollmann’s searing solo as questioning postulant Sister Mary Robert, Seri Johnson’s rapping Sister Mary Lazarus or even Andre Shoals as Deloris’ married gangster boyfriend Curtis.
Their humor — plus Alan Menken’s bouncy tunes, conducted beautifully by Richard Long — help to soften the problematic stereotypes in the story line of this musical adapted from the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg.
“Sister Act” is about clashing worlds — literally black and white. Deloris is a profane, street-savvy singer who wants to get booked at a club owned by Curtis. When we first meet her, she and her backups, Tina and Michelle (Brianna Graham and Ruthanne Heyward, both excellent), are auditioning for him. But he’s distracted and not easily impressed.
Deloris happens to walk in shortly after he kills a henchman suspected of being an informant. Curtis wants no witnesses and wants to off Deloris, too. She turns to an old schoolmate, police officer Eddie Souther (Reginald D. Haney), who comes up with what he thinks is a holy hideout.
The foundation of the show includes some unsettling, broad characterizations that director Brindisi mutes with his light touch. At the same time, Brindisi finds heart in this story that takes place on Nayna Ramey’s evocative set.
That approach is exemplified by Shoals’ lovingly contradictory interpretation of Curtis. His big number, “When I Find My Baby,” sounds like a love song, even though the lyrics are all about murder. Shoals delivers it with magnanimity and joy. If you did not speak the language, you would swear he was channeling the angels of Barry White.
The humor also is heightened by Tamara Kangas Erickson’s lyrical choreography. The dances she has made for a gangster trio played by Kasano Mwanza, Mathias Anderson and Fernando Collado are pretty and soft, in contrast to the song’s message.
Kudos also to Haney, who puts his range on display with some sweet falsetto notes; Keith Rice as Monsignor O’Hara, and ensemble members Thomas Schumacher, Rudolph Searles III, Emily Rose Skinner and Alyssa Seifert. With the closing number “Spread the Love Around,” they and the entire cast will make you a believer.