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Deloris (Brit West) is a lounge singer who has to hide in a convent under the watchful eye of Mother Superior (Megan Van De Hey) in the Arvada Center season opener, "Sister Act." The musical is based on the 1992 film, but goes off in exciting different directions. Photo courtesy of the Arvada Center

SISTER ACT. Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner; directed by Rod A. Lansberry. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada) through Oct. 2. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or at arvadacenter.org.

Rousing is the word that comes to mind as I ponder SISTER ACT. A show that starts with a bluesy invitation by a nightclub singer for her lover to “take her to Heaven” and then repeats the song at the end of the act as the gospel-rock debut of a choir of singing nuns has a lot of “rouse” in it. The production is based on the favorite Whoopi Goldberg 1992 movie, not too much changed if memory serves. Deloris, the singer in a gangsta-run nightclub, accidentally witnesses a murder and runs to the police for protection. The cop Eddie “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, who has a longtime crush on Deloris, takes her to a convent to hide her, much to the chagrin of the Mother Superior. Deloris, because she’s bored, takes on the convent’s faltering choir and turns them into media darlings. The resulting celebrity leads to the bad guys’ finding her—but hey, this is a musical comedy, so there’s a happy ending after all.

Mixed throughout the evening are sterling performances and charming music. In addition to the gospel music sprinkled throughout, there’s the surprising “I Could Be That Guy” in which Sweaty Eddie protests his public persona. With startling costume changes, he becomes all the cool and exciting man he wants to be to impress Deloris. He tells her, “Don’t wait for Jehovah—the wait is over—I’m a Latin Casanova.” The nuns praise the convent life by listing all the benefits and joys in “It’s Good to Be a Nun.” (If ever you harbored a dream of the cloistered life, this song would certainly talk you out of it.) Keith Hatten as the gangster Curtis Jones tells what he’s going to do “When I Find My Baby.” And Megan Van De Hey as the Mother Superior longs for the quiet life “Here Within These Walls.”

A uniformly talented cast brings this show to you. Brit West as the beautiful and bouncy Deloris takes control of the situation in the opening minutes of the show and doesn’t let go until curtain call. We are under her spell as her goodhearted nature wins over the convent. She is sexy, pouty, scared, confident, learns a thing or two and teaches a thing or two during her time with the sisters. But she has the audience rooting for her all the way.

We are equally charmed by her sisters in music. Sharon Kay White as the ever-jovial Sister Mary Patrick, Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck as the grim Sister Mary Lazarus, Maggie Davenport, Chanel Karimkhani, Heather Lacy, Sara Rex and Maggie Tisdale form the order of nuns at the heart of the production. A young nun-in-training, Sister Mary Robert, is played by Emma Martin, who does a standout job in converting from a shy introverted mouse to a strong singer (“Raise Your Voice”) to a stronger woman.  Of course, the luminous Megan Van De Hey as the Mother Superior who longs for the quiet life she had before Deloris entered the picture is . . . well, luminous. If I didn’t know what a warm, vigorous person she is in real life, I’d say she was born to the cloth.

The men of the cast hold up their end of the proceedings. David Kaverman, making his debut at the Arvada Center, does a spot-on Latin lover hiding under the uniform of a cop. Keith Hatten is the local Christopher Walken, always being cast in sinister roles because of his (only onstage) menacing persona. His Curtis Jackson fills the bill as the bad guy. His sidekicks (Aaron Fried, Anthony Alfero and Napoleon M. Douglas) provide the comic Cowardly Lions to his Wicked Witch. Stephen Day plays Monsignor O’Hara,  who sides with Mother Superior regarding Deloris until everyone starts coming to the church to hear the new nontraditional music. 

While I was surprised at the unflattering secular costumes given to Deloris for her outside-the-convent life, she spent the vast majority of the show in the always flattering habit of a nun. The amazing costume in this show was the quick-change onstage routine pulled off by Kaverman in his solo performance of “I Could Be That Guy.” This one you have to see to believe. As always, the technical team at the Arvada Center bring you a polished production smoothly operated.

 Photo courtesy of the Arvada Center.

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