Two of the cast members who’ll be coming to Dayton with the touring company of “Sister Act” have local ties and both performers describe the musical as “fun” and “inspirational.”
The Broadway version of Whoopi Goldberg’s popular film is touted as family-friendly and will be at the Schuster Center as part of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series from Jan. 28 through Feb. 2. The show is co- produced by Goldberg herself and recommended for kids ages nine and up.
Chances are you’ve seen the movie and are already familiar with the plot: a disco diva named Deloris witnesses a murder and is placed in a convert for protective custody. Disguised as a nun, she breathes new life into the choir and the church.
What’s different in this stage version is an original score with music by Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe award-winning composer Alan Menken who wrote “Little Shop of Horrors,” ” Beauty and the Beast,” ” The Little Mermaid” and “Enchanted.” Lyrics are by Tony and Academy Award-nominee Glenn Slater of “The Little Mermaid” fame; the book is by Emmy award winners Cheri and Bill Steinkellner of “Cheers.”
Another difference? This show is set in the ’70s and has a disco flavor.
CCM grad is understudy, swing
“It’s a message of love and joy,” says Carla Woods, who received her degree in musical theater from the University of Cincinnati’s well-known College Conservatory of Music and is both a swing and an understudy in the company.
As a nun ‘swing,’ Woods is responsible for covering all the nuns in the chorus — filling in for any of them when necessary, often at the last minute. She is also an understudy for the lead character of Deloris.
“We need to be aware of everyone’s track,” she explains. “It can be hard and takes a certain kind of mind — and skill — to keep it all straight. In the afternoon I could be Sister Mary Theresa and at night I might be playing someone else.”
To prepare, Woods has created little notebooks for each of the 11 characters she might end up portraying.
“The stage manager may send a text a half-hour before the show saying which character it will be, and I review that notebook,” she explains.
It’s the second national tour for Woods who was also in the Broadway National Tour of “All Shook Up.”
“It’s fun getting to go back to places I’ve been before and know the theaters and some of the people there,” she says.
Woods, who grew up in Indianapolis and now lives in New York, has always been a singer and was “really into show choirs” in high school. Her goal is to appear on Broadway.
She says she can always spot a fellow CCM grad at a New York audition.
“They are always well-behaved, can sight read the music, take direction well,” she says. “They don’t talk back to the director when they’re given a note and they are very professional.”
Ensemble member from Columbus
It isn’t the first time Stephanie Hayslip, who grew up in Columbus, has played a nun. She has also donned habits for “The Sound of Music” and “Nunsense.”
In “Sister Act” she’s a member of the ensemble and also an understudy for Sister Mary Patrick. She says the film was always one of her favorites and she could always envision it as a Broadway musical.
“I started dancing at five,” says Hayslip, who now lives in Los Angeles. “My mom says I would dance to 7-Up commercials on television when I was little so she signed me up for dance lessons at The Movement Center in Columbus and I loved it.”
Hayslip has always known she wants to perform.
“If you wake up and all you think about is singing then you’re supposed to be a singer,” she believes. “I wake up and all I want to do is perform. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life. “
Currently on her first national tour, Hayslip says she loves emotional pieces like “Sister Act” that grip the audience.
“I love the pure joy that emanates from it,” she says. “It’s impossible to watch this show and not be happy and excited and have a good time. Especially in today’s world, I think everyone deserves the chance to laugh and be uplifted.”
Music as star
Woods says the music is the real star of “Sister Act.” Her favorite song in the show is ‘Raise Your Voice,’ sung the first time the nuns find their voices. The song always brings her to tears.
“You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the spiritual experience of ‘Sister Act,” she concludes. “This show is about finding your joy again.”
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