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High praise for Marriott Theatre's 'Sister Act'

When it comes to boosting attendance at Sunday mass, the Chicago Archdiocese could learn a thing or two from the nuns in The Marriott Theatre's latest production, SISTER ACT.

Based on the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, SISTER ACT, directed for Marriott by Don Stephenson, tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, who in this version is a disco lounge singer in 1970s Philadelphia who witnesses a murder and must hide out in a convent until the trial.

Deloris (Stephanie Umoh, who nails the tough/innocent dichotomy) becomes Sister Mary Clarence, who from the get-go clashes with Mother Superior (the always solid Hollis Resnik). The evolution of their relationship is convincing and poignant.

It's the entire order of nuns at Queen of Angels, however, that steals the show with its joyous energy, from the moment Deloris trades her purple suede thigh-high boots for a black-and-white nun's habit to the glitzy finale, which finds even the stern Mother Superior bedazzled in sequins.

An innocent question posed by Sister Mary Patrick (the infectiously enthusiastic Lillian Castillo) - "What's your favorite part of being a nun?" - puts Deloris on the spot and sets in motion her spiritual awakening, as it were. And it is her musical expertise that solidifies her bond with the sisters during choir rehearsal, where she transforms their far-from-celestial voices into a bombastic chorale during the rollicking "Raise Your Voice."

That is not to say the rest of the cast is lacking. The men in the cast hold their own, especially Don Forston as Monsignor O'Hara, who commands the stage every time he makes an entrance, and the trio playing thugs Joey, Pablo and TJ (Todd A. Horman, Jason Slattery and Mark Hood, respectively), whose sleazy/sexy "Lady in the Long Black Dress" shows each gentleman's unique dance moves as they try to one-up one another.

Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as the sweet cop who's had a thing for Deloris since high school has a shining moment during "I Could Be That Guy," a fantasy dreamlike number where his smooth crooning gets backup from a group of homeless on the street. (Nancy Missimi's clever costume design adds some pizzazz here as well.)

Shout-out to set designer Thomas M. Ryan and lighting designer Jesse Klug for creating seamless transitions from shiny disco environs to the reverence of the church and convent.

SISTER ACT isn't thick on plot or originality, but it's chock-full of talent, the action is swift and the entertainment consistent -- how churchgoing should be.