For their long-awaited Winter semester musical production, the University of Michigan’s premier student-run theatre troupe, MUSKET, will be presenting the lively and hilarious “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy.”
The musical, which is based on the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, follows the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a wayward woman who, after seeing her ex-boyfriend commit murder, hides in a convent. Coming from Philadelphia with dreams of being a singer to ending up in a house full of nuns, Van Cartier finds herself in an entirely different world. She uses her talents, however, to teach the other nuns choreography and music, resulting in wonderfully entertaining, powerful musical numbers with convivial spirit.
Playing Deloris Van Cartier is Music, Theatre & Dance senior AnnEliza Canning Skinner, who has been involved in SMTD productions like “Caroline, or Change,” “Music Man” and “American Idiot.” Through MUSKET, this is her first ever leading role in a musical.
“’Sister Act’ is actually the show that made me want to pursue Musical Theatre when I was younger,” Skinner said in an interview. “It’s so cool to see it come full circle like that.”
Completely student-run, the production includes cast and crew from many areas of the University. MUSKET is made up of about 50 percent performance majors and 50 percent non-performance majors. Part of MUSKET’s mission is to ensure that non-performance majors have the opportunity to pursue their passion for theatre and performance.
“Honestly, I love this experience so much because of the aspect that it’s student-run,” Skinner said. “My favorite part about this show is the standard that we hold each other to. Even though we’re all students, I’ve never seen such a hard working cast. The dedication, the universality and the passion for the theatre is so cool to experience.”
With rehearsals starting in January, the MUSKET cast and crew has been working long and hard for the April production. Music, Theatre & Dance junior Chris Campbell, the show’s Director and Choreographer, began his work before winter break.
“It’s hilarious. It’s nonstop laughing for two hours,” Campbell said. With this being his first time directing and choreographing a MUSKET production, Campbell’s excitement and gratification is tangible.
“I think what makes this production different and special is the energy that all the cast members bring,” he said. “There’s such a fresh, youthful energy to it.”
“Sister Act” features music by 11-time Grammy winner, eight-time Oscar winner and Tony award winner Alan Menken, who also wrote the music for other Broadway hits such as “A Christmas Carol” and “Newsies,” along with classic Disney movies such as “Hercules,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” “Sister Act” earned five Tony nominations.
“I have to say it’s so exciting and just so fun. Everyone is so supportive and unconditionally dedicated to this project,” Skinner added. “I struggle a lot with acceptance of myself, and I feel like this is such a great opportunity for students to work with other students, and especially to have some psychological freedom from the pressures that we put on ourselves.”
After months of working on intricacies, perfecting details and rehearsing little bits and pieces of the show at a time, when the time to put everything together came, it was nothing short of magical.
“The highlight of this whole process definitely would have to be the first time we ran the whole show,” Campbell said. “It was so exciting for me. Everything started to take form. The ending product exceeded my expectations by 1000 percent: I did not think we would have the cast that we have, the set that we have, the lights that we have, the costumes we have, the orchestra we have.”
Like MUSKET itself, “Sister Act” channels the importance of community.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s such a great story of sisterhood, unity and love,” Skinner said. “I think everyone can gain something from it.”