‘Sister Act’ is back in the habit at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Sister Act' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 1)

The Whoopi Goldberg comedy flick was one of the Top 3 highest grossing movies of 1992.

In 2011, the Broadway adaptation earned five Tony nominations, including Best Musical.

This Friday, the stage version comes to Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Maryland, through Nov. 5.

“I am a huge Whoopi Goldberg fan,” Actress Ashley Johnson Moore told WTOP. “I remember watching this movie for the first time in the ’90s. I just remember the joy of it. … And then of course when ‘Sister Act 2’ ended up coming out years later, it was just as iconic of course with Lauryn Hill and other Black actors and actresses. … I’m just a Whoopi fan, so I’m gonna follow her to the end of the earth with her performances and everything she does.”

Johnson Moore plays Whoopi’s role of Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer in Reno, Nevada, at a club owned by her gangster boyfriend. Caught up in his criminal empire, Deloris enters witness protection and is forced to join a convent, surprising the strict Mother Superior (Lynn Sharp Spears) by teaching the nuns to belt to the rafters.

“Ashley didn’t mention this, but she also played Whoopi’s role in the musical version of ‘Ghost’ at Toby’s not too long ago, so Ashley is amazing and Whoopi would be proud,” Sharp Spears said. “The journey is [about] how very different people from different lifestyles and beliefs can join and be joyful and come to a collective understanding and appreciation for each other. It’s just a wonderful piece, we have a wonderful cast and the music is so joyful.”

The soaring music is written by Oscar winner Alan Menken, who wrote beloved songs for Disney animated classics like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tangled,” as well as live-action productions like “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Newsies” and “Enchanted.”

“Alan Menken is actually my favorite composer; he is my all-time favorite,” Johnson Moore said. “I fell in love with his music in the ’90s, listening to the classic Disney movies. A lot of people are like huge (Stephen) Sondheim fans, but I don’t know, there’s just something about Alan Menken’s (music). I don’t know he does it, but he’s just a musical genius. .. The music for our show, ‘Sister Act,’ tugs on all of your heartstrings from beginning to end.”

Her favorite song is actually the title number, appearing in Act 2 with the triumphant lyrics, “And as a sister and a friend, I’ll be a sister ‘til the end, and no one on this earth can change that fact, I’m part of one terrific sister act.”

“She finally comes to the realization that she has everything she needs. She doesn’t need a stage, she doesn’t need a spotlight, she doesn’t need background dancers and money to be somebody — love and friendship is all that matters,” Johnson Moore said. “The way he puts that into a song so masterfully, I could cry right now just thinking of it. … Alan Menken just took this iconic movie and made the music in the musical even more fabulous, baby.”

As for her co-star, Sharp Spears finds a different number the most touching.

“‘Spread the Love’ is the one that always gets me at the end because it’s the huge reconciliation and acceptance of each other that Deloris and Mother Superior have,” Sharp Spears said. “He has written very challenging music. It’s not easy music, but that’s part of communicating the emotion. ‘I Haven’t Got a Prayer’ that Mother Superior sings when she realizes the impact that Deloris has had on her sisters and her convent. … It’s incredibly powerful.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Sister Act' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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