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Sister Act's cast and crew elevate a by-the-book adaptation

Regina Marie Williams

Regina Marie Williams

Down at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Michael Brindisi has a way of spinning dross into, if not gold, than at least something is very, very fun.

Sister Act is no one's idea of a great musical. It's an obvious money grab (nothing wrong there) that struggles to find an appropriate tone (that's an issue). Is it a send-up of musicals? A loving tribute to '70s funk and disco? A stealthy recruitment tool for young women to join a convent?

Yet Chanhassen's production is a lot of fun. Give credit to Brindisi's breezy and cheeky production, which emphasizes the script's humor and the era's over-the-top and gaudy style. You can also give credit to the cast, led by Regina Marie Williams, who dive in the deep end with their silly characters and come out with something engaging throughout.

If you remember the 1992 film, you know the gist of Sister Act. A struggling singer, Deloris (Williams), sees her mobster boyfriend knock off one of his associates. Knowing that her life in is danger, she goes to the police. There, an old high-school flame hides her in a local convent until she can testify.

Instead of lying low, Deloris gets into loggerheads with the Mother Superior (Norah Long), especially when she adds a bit of funk to the nun's choir. That draws outside attention (and money for the failing church), which Delores loves, but also means that big bad Curtis knows where she is. Will they survive? Will Delores get to sing for the Pope?

Well, certainly. It's the journey that makes the show. It's aided by a change in scenery, as the action has been moved from the nondescript early '90s to the late '70s and placed firmly in the dirty streets of Rocky-era Philadelphia. The songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater  will send you to your Donna Summer, Patti LaBelle, and Barry White collections to trace their inspirations.

Williams is absolutely captivating as Deloris, as she makes her fun-loving character a real winner throughout. She can bring the funk as well, which she does throughout the show. Long is mainly asked to be severe, but adds a nice counterpoint to Williams' outsized performance. The rest of the company, from the polyester-wearing gangsters to the gaggle of nuns, craft an engaging world for these characters. That's led by Reginald D. Haney as the always-nervous cop, Eddie, who makes Eddie's undying love for Deloris more endearing than creepy.

The overwhelming sense of fun is aided by Tamara Kangas Erickson's deft choreography and Rich Hamson's delightfully over-the-top costumes (at the end, a couple of the men show up wearing giant mirror balls). So, while the musical's book may be a bit by the numbers, this production of Sister Act definitely is not.

IF YOU GO

Sister Act

Through Feb. 27

Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen

$49-$70, show only; $64-$85 with dinner

For tickets and more information, call 952-934-1525 or visit online.