Feature Q & A – Melvin Abston Returns to Atlanta with Sister Act

Melvin Abston from Sister Act at the Fox Theatre

Melvin Abston

Sister Act premiered at the Alliance Theatre in 2008. Based on the hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, the musical follows Deloris as she is placed in a convent to keep her safe before a trial, where she will be one of the main witnesses. With all new songs written by Alan Menken, the show takes place in the 1970s instead of present day. The only current cast member who performed with the Alliance production is Melvin Abston. In this feature Q & A, he discusses the show, the Alliance Theatre and more.

You were with the show when it was at the Alliance Theatre. How much has it changed since then?

It has changed a bit, but the characters are still the same and the story is still the same – just some polishing. It’s a tighter show, a funnier show. The heart and the charm are still there.

What are some of the new songs that have been added since then?

Instead of “How I Got the Calling” the song is now “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” which is the story of how the nuns got to be involved with the order. Another one is ‘I Haven’t Got a Prayer,” a song that Mother Superior sings, has changed. The content of the song has changed a little bit, but the message is still the same. With Curtis and the three thugs, “Dressed to Kill” has become “When I Find my Baby.” It is more of a smooth groove and still a great story-telling song and really well performed.

What role did you have in the Alliance production?

In the original cast, I originated TJ, one of the three thugs. I played the main bad guy’s nephew. He is a sweet, but kind of dim witted character. When it went to London, the show was recast except for Patina Miller, who retained the role of Deloris. I joined the Broadway cast in the ensemble and covered Curtis. I am now in the ensemble and cover Eddie and TJ.

Do you enjoy being a cover?

I love it. Just last night I got a call and ended up performing as Curtis. It is always the same story, but the perspective of which I get to tell the story is always great depending on which character I get to play. I enjoy it very much.

Is there a number in the musical that you enjoy performing?

Oh yeah, when I am Curtis, I absolutely love performing “When I Find My Baby.” As TJ I love to perform “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” I have loved that song since we first performed it in Atlanta at the Alliance. It was always one of my favorite songs, a crowd favorite. Just so beautifully written and smartly crafted.

Cast members of Sister Act. Photo by Joan Marcus

Cast members of Sister Act. Photo by Joan Marcus

Is there another number that the audience really enjoys?

The end of the first act is probably the high point of audience participation. Just “Raise Your Voice” and, then, before that “Take Me to Heaven.” The audience just seems to leap out of their seat. Also, “The Lady in the Long Black Dress” just tickles people’s funny bones, and they really enjoy that.

Does the music feel familiar to people?

Alan Menken and Glen Slater put together some fantastic original tunes. The other thing was putting it in a different time. The 70s inspired music is always fun. The style is there, but they have inserted musical licks that are reminiscent of artists in the 70s. You might be like, “Oh, that sounds like a Barry White song.” Because they are very catchy, you walk away kind of singing the songs.

Do you get to wear any of those 70s suits?

Oh, absolutely.

What did you enjoy about working at the Alliance?

First and foremost, it is a fantastic theater, both the Hertz Stage and the main stage. I have had the pleasure of seeing other things there as well. I am a fan of regional theatre, and the Alliance is just another example of why.  Just the details that they tend to in terms of the story telling. They want things precise. They want to be detail oriented when it comes to costumes, story, the set, the dramaturgy. Those things are the meat and potatoes for us actors. Those things make it easy for us to lose ourselves in these roles and tell these stories. The Alliance is one of the great one’s across the country that does that.

Are the regional theaters an important part of “Theater”?

Absolutely. I will say this – Broadway is Oz, but the yellow brick road goes through all these regional theaters. Oz is Broadway; that’s where you want to end up. But, to get there takes working at these great regional houses. That’s where the arts live, and they keep the arts viable in America. If it weren’t for those places, you would have the very rich who are able to go to Broadway and then a gap, a huge artistic divide between those who couldn’t afford that and have the enrichment that the arts can bring to people’s lives.

Why should audience see the show?

With all of the things that hit you in the face in terms of how bad the world can be through the news or headlines, come and have a really good time and walk away singing some really fun tunes. See a good story with some heart, with some laughs.

Part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta series, Sister Act plays at the Fox Theatre April 22, 2013 through April 28, 2013. Tickets are available at the Fox Theatre box office, online or by phone at 855-ATL-TIXX.