In the late 1980s screenwriter Paul Rudnick was trying to come up with an idea for a new screenplay. He was intrigued by characters disguising themselves as people who are completely opposite their true selves, such as men in drag in the classic Some Like It Hot and Barbara Stanwyck’s burlesque queen turned good girl in Ball of Fire. He eventually decided that nuns should be the central characters and the idea for Sister Act was born. Rudnik worked on the project in its early stages, eventually leaving the writing to others. Whoopi Goldberg came on board and agreed to star as the lead character Deloris Van Cartier. Sister Act was released in 1992 and went on to be a great success for Goldberg, becoming one of the most financially successful films of the early ‘90s. It is now listed on Bravo’s top 100 funniest films of all time. The sequel, Sister Act 2, Back in the Habit, followed in 1993.
In 2006 the Pasadena Playhouse in California gathered together an impressive creative team to take the hilarious story to the stage and develop it as a musical. Former Disney Studios Chairman Peter Schneider, (who brought The Lion King and Aida to Broadway) was hired as director, eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken came on board to write the music, and Glenn Slater joined the team as lyricist. The book was written by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, Emmy-winning writers from the hit television show "Cheers." The theatre premiered the stage musical version of the popular film to critical success and it became the largest grossing show in its history at that time. The show then opened in Atlanta for one month in 2007, to continue its trial run before heading to the West End’s London Palladium in May 2009.
When the London production team began working on the show, they asked Whoopi Goldberg to sign on as one of the producers, which she immediately agreed to do. In an interview with the Daily Mirror she explained, “They asked me to be part of it so I said ‘sure.’ I live in New York so they send me updates and videos of rehearsals and I send them my notes or I call them. Some of my notes they take on board and others they don’t. That’s how we keep it moving.” Goldberg had a long list of stage credits to her name by this time. Early in her career she created The Spook Show, a one-woman show composed of different character monologues. She caught the eye of director Mike Nichols who offered to take the show to Broadway. Steven Spielberg saw her performance on stage which led to her breakthrough role playing Celie in his period drama film The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress. She went on to great success as the wacky psychic helping the ghost of Patrick Swayze in the film Ghost, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Goldberg was the second black woman in the history of the Academy Awards to win an acting Oscar (the first being Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind in 1939.) Goldberg was also the producer of the Broadway productions of Thoroughly Modern Millie and the revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. She is one of the few entertainers who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. In the 1990s, Goldberg was rumored to be the highest paid actress for her appearances in film.
The London production of Sister Act opened after a year-long search for a leading actress. Patina Miller was eventually cast as Deloris, alongside Sheila Hancock as Mother Superior and Ian Lavender as Monsignor. The show ran in the West End until October 2010. During its run Goldberg joined the cast for a limited engagement to play Mother Superior and sent box office sales through the roof.
After the successful run in London, a newly revised adaptation of Sister Act opened on Broadway in April 2011. Jerry Zaks came on board as director and Douglas Carter Beane was engaged to rewrite the book. Patina Miller reprised her role, making her Broadway debut. The original cast featured Victoria Clard as Mother Superior and Fred Applegate as Monsignor. The show was very successful on Broadway and went on to receive 5 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. The show closed on August 26, 2012.
Since its Broadway debut, Sister Act has enjoyed several U.S. National Tours and has been produced in multiple countries throughout the world including Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, Holland, France, Spain, and Brazil. The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the first regional theatre in the U.S. to produce the musical Sister Act. For this production a creative team, that includes Adam Koch who has designed an all new set for Ogunquit and members of the original Broadway team, has gathered together to bring an invigorating show to the historic stage.