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Review: 'Sister Act' a heavenly song-and-dance

There’s some pretty heavenly harmony in “Sister Act” at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

The show, which opened Friday under director Kimberly Faith Hickman, really hits its stride when you meet the nuns about a third of the way through the first act. As you might expect if you’ve seen the movie on which this musical is based, their song-and-dance numbers are the highlight of the two-hour production.

You have to sit through some plot setup to get to that point: The show opens with lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Zhomontee Watson) trying to persuade her married gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Brian Priesman), to let her perform in his club. He tells her she’s not ready, then gives her a garish blue fur coat for Christmas, despite her request for an elegant white one — and, adding insult to injury, it’s a castoff from his wife.

Deloris decides to dump Curtis and pursue her dream on her own, but as she goes to tell him that they’re through, she sees him kill a minion whom he suspected of double-crossing him. She flees to the police, where she reconnects with “Sweaty” Eddie (Marcel Daly), a hapless high school pal who became a cop. He hides her in a convent until he can apprehend Curtis and she can testify at his trial.

This only takes two songs — both of which establish Watson’s glowing stage presence. She has a voice that doesn’t quit, and Deloris is a role she was meant to play. But the show started a little slowly for me — I found myself anticipating the convent scenes because I’d seen them on film.

Enter the nuns — and the four guys who make up Curtis’ gang — and the show takes off.

As Mother Superior, Judy Anderson is a standout. She’s strict but softer and more contemplative than her movie counterpart, and she plays it more for laughs without becoming a stereotype. She’s a wonderful comic actress with a more than pleasant voice.

Hearing the cacophony of the nuns’ choir, Deloris, as Sister Mary Clarence, becomes its director, and the transformation is miraculous, to say the least. The ensemble of sisters does a great job sounding bad and a way better job sounding wonderful. Their blend is a blessing.

The comedy is pretty good, too, especially from Sally Neumann Scamfer as Sister Mary Lazarus, Sara Mattix as Sister Mary Patrick and Cork Ramer as the Monsignor, who enthusiastically buys into Deloris’ vision for the choir. Melissa King has a lovely solo as Sister Mary Robert. Daly’s solo work as Eddie also shines.

Ditto for the gang trio: Justin Eller, Jonathan Smith and Adam Fulbright. They’re hysterical as they sing about how they’ll seduce the sisters into giving up Deloris — complete with a bump-and-grind dance, only one example of Melanie Walters’ wonderful choreography. Jim Boggess directs a 10-piece orchestra with a big sound.

A word about the music: Don’t expect to hear “My Guy” or other songs from the film. The musical has an original score by noted composer Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Not to worry: When the sisters sing “It’s Good to Be a Nun” or “Sunday Morning Fever,” just to name a couple, you’ll forget all about the movie.

Georgiann Regan’s costumes offer a few cool surprises: Keep an eye out for what happens to Eddie in his big number, “I Could Be That Guy.” The nuns even get a few costume changes.

The script by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (“Cheers”) with additional material from Douglas Carter Beane (the reworked “Cinderella”) has some funny double entendres and jokes that only adults will get, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bring kids to the show. Your family will love this “Sister.”

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