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PREVIEW: Nuns Flocking Back to Chanhassen in Soaring Sister Act

Regina Marie Williams (center) as Deloris Van Cartier “blending in” at the convent in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ 2015 production of Sister Act. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

The Star Tribune‘s Graydon Royce said that Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ 2015 production of Sister Actsoared on the wings of Regina Marie Williams’ performance as nightclub singer/faux nun Deloris van Cartier.” The show clearly had some wings, because it’s flying back to Chanhassen this year for previews on November 3.

“What’s that?” you ask. “Flying back?” Yes, indeed. Williams is returning along with almost the entire 2015 cast (just two members were unavailable) to rock the convent in a 15-week limited engagement. The singing nuns, Sweaty Eddie, and the rest of the gang(sters) will officially throw the doors open on November 10 following a week of previews.

Kasano Mwanza, Matthias Anderson, and Daniel S. Hines sing about how to sweet-talk nuns in CDT’s 2015 production of Sister Act. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Missed the show last time? Haven’t seen the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg star vehicle of the same name? Here’s the story in a nutshell: a nightclub singer and mob boss’s girlfriend (one person, played by Regina Marie Williams) accidentally becomes a witness to a mob killing. Her witness protection program places her undercover in a convent, where she ends up posing as nun and entirely ignoring instructions to keep a low profile. Before you hit the second act, she’s injected some metaphorical heroin into the convent church’s music program, rescuing a crumbling parish and rocketing it to national prominence.

This isn’t a good recipe for hiding from unsavory types out to kill you, but it serves as an excellent foundation for a crowd-pleasing musical. The soaring score was written by Alan Menken of innumerable Disney musicals and Little Shop of Horrors fame, with lyrics by Glenn Slater. When they began working on Sister Act, Slater had just finished writing lyrics for Menken’s expanded stage version of The Little Mermaid; other notable credits include the lyrics and co-writing the book for Love Never Dies (coming to the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis next June), lyrics for the stage version of School of Rock, and lyrics for the animated movie musical Tangled. All in all, it’s some of the duo’s best work for the stage.

“The string of divine performances only grows longer inside the convent, with Mother Superior, played by Norah Long, and more than a half dozen sisters led by Britta Ollmann.” – Richard Crawford, Chanhassen Villager

Watching Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ production of Sister Act is like taking off in a rocket and watching the Earth fall away beneath you. Once the show gets off the ground, the big production numbers get larger and more electrifying, each trying to outdo or outshine the one before it. Even when the on-stage action dies down, the cast (and songs) outdo it in other areas, like the transformation dreamscape of “I Could Be That Guy” – sung divinely by Reginald D. Haney – or the so-wrong-it’s-good pleasure of “Lady in the Long Black Dress”, in which a trio of mobsters sing about how they will seduce the nuns.

“We are pleased to welcome back Regina as Deloris,” said Director Michael Brindisi. “Also returning is another highly sought-after singer-actor in the Twin Cities, Norah Long, as Mother Superior. Regina and Norah have thrilled audiences on every major stage in the Twin Cities and we couldn’t be happier to have them back…this is an astoundingly talented cast.”


Listen to an Excerpt of “Take Me to Heaven” from Sister Act

Sister Act opens for previews at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen, MN on November 3. The show formally opens on November 10 and runs through February 24, 2018.

Basil Considine