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'Sister Act' gets a joyful staging at University of Arizona

'Sister Act' gets a joyful staging at University of Arizona

Tony Moreno, Zach Zupke and Tristan Caldwell in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “Sister Act.”

Bless me father for I have sinned:

I loved Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “Sister Act.”

That shouldn’t be. The musical is a remake of the 1992 movie, and those remakes rarely work.

It’s set in the disco era — really, who wants to revisit the 1970s?

It’s got the depth of the Rillito River in the dry season, the characters are solidly one-dimensional and the Alan Menken/Glenn Slater songs are fun but not particularly memorable.

Yet, I loved it. Couldn’t help it.

Blame director/choreographer Christie Kerr. She upped the physical humor, had seamless scene changes, and she never let the action lag.

Also blame the University of Arizona theater students who brought this piece to bouncing life.

They exuded a contagious joy. They were clearly having gobs of fun and so the audience did, as well. To a person — and this was astounding because the cast is large (24) — they were present, rooted in the story and characters.

Adia Bell took on the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, the lounge singer who witnesses her boyfriend kill someone and has to hide away in a convent until she can testify against him. Bell’s voice soars and her Deloris oozed sass, when she was in a nun’s habit and when she wasn’t.

Mother Superior is a difficult role — she has to let the audience see her transition from disapproving nun who just wants Deloris out of the convent to one of embracing her. Amanda Valenzuela did just that without ever forcing it. It was easy to believe her change. And her gorgeous voice has a warmth that wraps itself around you.

The bad guys play a bigger part in the musical than they did in the movie. And they add much of the humor.

Zach Zupke as Deloris’ killer boyfriend, Curtis, smoothly delivered the bluesy “When I Find My Baby,” all about how he plans to kill Deloris once he finds her.

He was backed up by a trio of dimwitted goons who do the hard work searching for Deloris. Tristan Caldwell, Tony Moreno and Conner Morley did some sublime physical comedy, and they each shone in the song “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” It’s all about how they are going to seduce the nuns harboring Deloris.

While the play has plenty of flaws, this production did not. Tori Mays’ lighting design was spot on. Ryan B. Moore’s costumes were pure 1970s — all polyester, glittery and very funny. Jason Jamerson’s scenic design was kind of ingenious with how adaptable it was: It underscored the story and allowed for swift scene changes. The orchestra, led by Jamie Reed, was lush and made those disco-esque tunes actually sound good.

“Sister Act” is kind of a stupid musical. But so much fun, something the world is sorely lacking right now. Bless the UA for giving us a brief respite.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@tucson.com or 573-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar

Reporter

Kathleen has covered the arts for the Star for 20 years. Previously, she covered business, news and features for the Tucson Citizen. A near-native of Tucson, she is continually amazed about the Old Pueblo's arts scene and feels lucky to be covering it.

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