The most divine musical comedy will soon be descending on the Joseph Rowntree Theatre- come February 2018, the University of York’s Central Hall Musical Society will be treating us to some serious soul, with their production of Sister Act. Ave, baby! Tackling such a huge ensemble show is an exciting prospect for CHMS. Last year, they took home unprecedented profit for their production of Anything Goes, and their 3 show run was completely sold out. Anything Goes forged crucial links between the society, the university and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, and Sister Act is all set to follow in its footsteps.
Olivia, Josh and Becca have been with Sister Act from the beginning, as Producer, Musical Director and Director respectively. I sat down with the production team to find out exactly how they feel about bringing life to a musical known for being larger than it.
Why did you choose to pitch Sister Act for this year’s February show?
Olivia (Producer): For me, Sister Act seemed to be the perfect opportunity to try something new with CHMS! It is massively ensemble based and has so much soul and groove, moving away from the more traditional Musical Theatre shows that have been done in the past.
Becca (Director): It is a fun, feel good musical that relies heavily on the strength of a female ensemble. The ensemble is absolutely key to my vision and direction of the show and I think that is really exciting! You can’t help but smile when listening to the music and not a rehearsal has gone by where I haven’t been left beaming.
What do you feel is the most important part of your role on the prod team?
Olivia: As the Producer, I would say the most important part of my role is the organizational element, and simply being approachable. I am essentially everyone’s first port of call, and have to divvy out roles to make sure everything is getting done on schedule. I also have to make sure that we have all the costumes, set and props that we need whilst keeping to our budget!
Becca: I think the most important part of my role is to ensure all bases are covered artistically and having a strong enough vision that the show becomes coherent and works as one whole, complete performance. I’m also keen to make sure that every actor on stage feels confident and knows how important their role is, which is why I encourage ensemble members to create their own character name and backstory.
Josh (Musical Director): Teaching music and getting through as much material as possible is the main part of my job. I also organise and run rehearsals with the band. The most important part of my role, however, is conducting the actual shows. The MD is the only person from the creative team to have to work in the actual show, which is very exciting for me.
What was the audition process like for you?
Olivia: The audition process was long and involved a lot of late nights, but it was also extremely rewarding. It was a really tough week in the sense that we saw around 80 people and were only able to choose 26. It taught me that as a production team we need to keep each other laughing, keep each other supported and be each other’s rocks.
Josh (Musical Director): The audition process was a very long week for us, however we were so excited to see over 70 people come in with different skill sets and abilities. Luckily for us, casting turned out to be super easy, because we could see who suited our show the most.
Becca: I was thrilled with every audition. There were some tough decisions, but I couldn’t be happier with the people we have cast, they work fantastically together and make a truly joyful noise!
Traditionally, Sister Act has been linked with African American stories and culture, especially with Whoopi Goldberg’s initial portrayal of Deloris. With a predominantly Caucasian society, what makes Sister Act a good fit?
Olivia: We discussed this a lot before pitching, but found out that the role of Deloris was originally written for Bette Midler, who turned down the role. Knowing that the character was not written for or based around African American culture, with minimal references to it in the script, and hearing from the rights company that Deloris should not be cased based on race, we felt it was still a good fit.
Josh: The show is such a massive sing, and what’s important for me is that we have found someone who is capable of singing these huge songs night after night. We are so lucky to have Ellie Pybus as our Deloris!
Becca: For me, I thought we would know our Deloris as soon as she entered the room, regardless of their race.
What makes your production of Sister Act different to other versions of the show?
Becca: If I had to pick one thing, it would be our emphasis on the ensemble. They will be responsible for set changes, moving the scenery and working the mechanics of the show- for me, they are the real leading role!
What can the audience expect from Sister Act?
Olivia: Fun, joy, laughter, some fabulous routines, all the disco vibes and genuine smiles all round. Oh, and a lot of wacky nuns!
Josh: Banger, after banger, after banger! This show has some of the best musical theatre songs I know- the audience will be rocking with us.
Becca: To smile for a solid two hours and not be able to take the soundtrack off repeat when it’s over.
Tickets for CHMS’ production of Sister Act go on sale on the 1st of November. You can find them on Facebook and contribute to their YuStart campaign in order to help fund the show. Sister Act will be performed in the Joseph Rowntree Theatre next February.