Sister Act by Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

Regina Marie Williams and Norah Long in Sister Act. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Regina Marie Williams and Norah Long in Sister Act. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

The musical Sister Act, which just opened on the main stage of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre (and runs through February 27), is as good as holiday fair gets in this season of elves, sugar plum fairies and dogs with antlers. The cast, under the direction of Michael Brindisi, with choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson, is infectiously energetic and the plot moves along with a swinging clip.

The story, adapted from a 1992 movie of the same name, is about a mobster’s African-American mistress who hopes to make it as a night club singer. She accidentally sees her brutal boyfriend, Curtis, commit a murder and is forced to go into witness protection by hiding in a convent and donning the nun’s habit as a disguise until she can testify in court. Deloris Van Cartier thus becomes Sister Mary Clarence as she enters the convent on Christmas Day giving the show its slight connection to the holiday season.

Sister Clarence is subsequently put in charge of choir rehearsals and the spirit takes hold of the nunnery in a whole new way with hymn singing that vibrates with new spirit based on gospel and popular song.

Regina Marie Williams, as Deloris Van Cartier plays her part with aplomb. She never strays too far into self-parody or grandstanding, as if the character herself learned something in rehearsals about sincerity from the severe, though compassionate, Mother Superior (Norah Long). Both Long and Williams carry their roles as well as they carry their songs, hitting all the right notes and making all the right moves.

With a play that centers on singing it is surprising that not a single song stands out as a memorable tune. The music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Glenn Slater move the play along but nothing stands out as a song to hum on the drive home.

The storyline, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, also holds few surprises. Nearly every plot twist is telegraphed well in advance. The laugh lines are mostly unimaginative, i.e. calling Deloris “incog-negro” when she first appears in her whipple and habit. One could argue it is this innocence, which verges on the insipid, that makes the show easy to enjoy without needing to think too hard about any underlying meaning.

Sister Act ends with an obvious wish for love and understanding. However the real message of the play may be that this is the season to wish for rhythms and inspirations that heal the soul and allow it to sing a full-throated song. Permission to do that is a good gift to receive this or any time of year. The Chanhassan’s production does a good job of delivering it.

The Chanhassen Dinner Theatre is located 25 minutes southwest of downtown Minneapolis. The show runs Tuesdays through Sundays.

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