EDGERTON—DeShawn Christiansen was watching auditions when Kory Friend made her bid for a lead role in “Sister Act.”
Christiansen knew Friend as a solid ensemble performer. But she wasn’t expecting what happened when Friend hit that show-stealing note.
“I was mesmerized,” said Christiansen, who has played leads in other Rock River Reperatory Theatre productions, including Mary Magdelene in “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and Velma Kelly in “Chicago.”
“I have goosebumps, and I look over at (director) Jim (Tropp). I’m trying not to cry,” Christiansen recalled. “It was an amazing moment. It was perfect.”
Friend gets to do it again for a bigger audience for six performances in January as she plays shy postulant nun Sister Mary Robert.
Christiansen will be right there as Deloris Van Cartier, the lounge singer who is hiding from her criminal ex-boyfriend by living with The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith.
That’s just one of the winks at Catholic culture that brings joy to Cindy Blanc, who plays Sister Mary Lazarus and who knows her Catholicism.
“Dancing nuns: You know, that’s funny in itself,” Blanc quipped.
Blanc, who is music director for Timber Lake Playhouse in Mount Carroll, Illinois, among other professional credits, hasn’t been on stage in years. Rehearsals have reminded her of all the times she has complained that her actors were not singing out during dance rehearsals.
“I want to apologize to every actor (she has said that to). Because it was hard. I was dying.”
“I’m a backstage girl. I don’t know how I got talked into this,” Blanc said.
Tropp talked her into it. She was helping out with auditions when Tropp turned to her and said, “You’re really funny,” she recalled.
You need a good sense of humor to be Catholic, Blanc said.
Wherever it comes from, Tropp thinks Blanc’s brand of funny will shine on stage.
Blanc’s professional opinion is that the “Sister Act” music is fabulous. She feels it channeling the Philadelphia sound of Lou Rawls and the O’Jays, and the score is written by Alan Mencken, whose credits include “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
“He knows how to write for women’s voices,” Blanc said.
Nicki Dougherty, who plays the ever-excited Sister Mary Patrick, hears a lot of disco, soul and Abba in the music. Like the character she plays, she glows when she talks about the show.
“DeShawn is so perfect for Deloris. She’s going to be so funny. Her voice is just perfect for it,” Doughterty said.
As for the show’s theology, it’s broad enough for everyone, Blanc said.
The convent’s mother superior encapsulates it in “Spread the Love Around.”
The key lyric: “All things being even, here’s what I believe in. Nothing matters more than love.”
The show is set in 1978, instead of the 1990s, which is the setting for the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg.
Christiansen saw the musical about a year ago and at first was disappointed because she didn’t hear the movie’s Motown-y soundtrack.
“But I fell in love with the show. The music is so amazing,” Christiansen said.
And the plot is much the same.
“The main theme of sisterly love is still there,” Christiansen said.
Friend, meanwhile, said she’s feeling the pressure of her first lead in a musical. The UW-Whitewater theater major said she’s excited to work with Christiansen and the rest of the cast.
“It’s all about sisterhood and rising up against the odds,” she said.