Local talent does decent work with a popular favorite

Showgirls, gangsters and singing nuns took the stage March 22 at the opening weekend of “Sister Act,” presented by First Company. Housed at the downtown Colorado Springs First United Methodist Church, the show offered more musical entertainment than credible theatre.

Popularized by the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and adapted for stage in 2006, “Sister Act” received five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical. Indeed, the music, staging and crisp choreography highlighted the local production, but the acting skills of the largely amateur troupe were distractingly spotty.

The singing nuns were impressive — from strong solo voices to the synergy of the group once they hit their stride. Doubling as seedy barmaids and showgirls in quick-change scenes, the actors embraced deep and rich personalities from the blossoming postulant, to a stern Mother Superior, flanked by nuns from snarky and soulful, to catty and contentious.

In her acting debut, lead Mahalia Hilts wowed the nearly full-house with her sultry vocals as provocative lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, who is hiding out at the Philadelphia convent in witness protection. Skanked-up in 4-inch stilettos with street-savvy banter, she looked the part — but her acting was hesitant and stilted. A middle school social studies teacher by day, Hilts gained confidence and stage presence as the show progressed.

Sarah Atkinson, involved in performance art since childhood, played postulant Sister Mary Robert and shined with acting and vocal prowess. A local K-12 musical theatre teacher, her audience fan base (and that of Hilts’) was loud and proud.

The storyline was peppered with offbeat antics from local actor Alicia Franks (Sister Mary Patrick) and Tammy Gant as the quirky, outspoken Sister Mary Lazarus. Both brought the house down with their comedic chops for some of the show’s best moments.

Other standouts in the cast included Meggan O’Mahony, as the stoic Mother Superior. One of several stooge-like thugs, newcomer Ford Sachsenmaier was a hoot as TJ, the gangster’s simple-minded nephew.

The first act is an entertaining setup; the second act languishes with character backstories told in song — well-sung and compelling, but losing some of the show’s comic energy in its wake. There is a fun, madcap chase as nuns, gangsters and police navigate the stage in a hilarious frenzy.

“Sister Act” is a musical powerhouse with evolving talent mentored by some of the best actors in the local live performance community. Prepare for some drag, a diversity of abilities but also magical musical entertainment amid passionate performances well worth the experience.