Finding his place among stage sisters
Longtime ‘Sister Act’ actor looks forward to show’s Spokane visit
Melvin Abston’s relationship with “Sister Act” is long running.
It doesn’t date back to the movie, which was released in 1992 and starred Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimi.
But when the stage musical had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2006, Abston was there on stage, as the henchman TJ. He then moved with the show to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2007. When the show headed to Broadway in 2011, Abston was there, as the understudy for Curtis Jackson, the bad guy of the piece. And now he’s portraying Jackson full time in the national touring production of the show, which will hit Spokane on Thursday as part of the Best of Broadway series.
Abston, whose credits include appearances on stage and television, said he’s still having a blast in “Sister Act.” The role of Curtis may not be large, but he’s a character who looms large over the story.
“Somebody has to be the bad guy,” Abston said by telephone from a tour stop in Nashville, “and sometimes the bad guy gets to have all the fun. He’s not the only one who has fun, but he has a really, really good time.”
The musical – written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Disney’s go-to composer, Alan Menken – follows the basic plot of the hit film, but changes up some elements. Most notably: The film was set in early 1990s in Reno, while the musical is set in 1970s Philadelphia.
“The time informs the play as almost an extra character,” Abston said, and has given the producers greater leeway to play with costuming and musical styles.
That’s another change, Abston said. While the movie primarily used pop songs with a twist – “My Guy” became “My God,” for instance – “Sister Act” the musical has all original music by Slater and Mencken, who first collaborated on the stage version of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
And that original music, he said, has a ’70s flair.
“Because the ’70s are so rife with memorable music, they’ve taken a lot of the licks and melody lines from popular songs and put them in there, so you’ve got a couple of songs where you’ll hear something and say, ‘Hey, I know that, it’s from that Marvin Gaye song.’ ”
The show offers fun for all ages. “There’s humor, and you might have a heartstring tugged,” said.
Mostly, however, it’s a high-energy show because in addition to all those singing nuns, there are dancing nuns, Abston said.
“Oh, those nuns can boogie,” he said with a laugh. “There will be some twirls and swirls to go along with the vocal twirls and swirls.”
Abston also is looking forward to returning to Spokane. He was last here for six weeks in 2005 as a member of “The Lion King” cast.
“I love, love, love that city,” he said. “We had the pleasure of lighting the Christmas tree that year, out by the big Red Ryder. It was nice that the town thought enough of us to be a part of that. Then we sang Christmas carols. It was quite special. It stands out as a prominent memory of my time there. And I get to go back again.”