In just a few days, Raven-Symoné — the actress-singer perhaps best known for her roles on The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven — joins the cast of the hit Broadway musical Sister Act. She’ll step into the bedazzled shoes of lounge singer-turned-nun Deloris Van Cartier, played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film (also one of the Broadway show’s producers).
Raven begins a scheduled six-month run on Tuesday, but before she hits the stage (and the convent), EW caught up with the performer for a Q&A about the rehearsal process, stage fright and — yes — That’s So Raven.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little about how you ended up in Sister Act.
RAVEN-SYMONÉ: Well, I was driving down the 405 freeway in L.A. going home, and my manager calls me and says, “I just got an offer from Sister Act on Broadway.” And he started doing the managerial explaining of why I should, and why it’s a good move, and I was like, “Stop, stop, stop. No worries. No need to explain.” And that’s how it is, and here I am!
And this is, essentially, your Broadway debut. It’s your first leading role on Broadway.
Yes, in a sense. This is my first leading role on Broadway. I like that sentence, because I did something with the Boys Choir of Harlem when I was younger, and it was on Broadway, but it wasn’t for as long as this is. And I wasn’t the lead, so this is my first leading role!
How have rehearsals been? What’s been the most fun aspect, and what’s been the most challenging?
Working with everyone in the cast and crew is absolutely amazing, I have to say. That’s the most fun part, getting to know my new family for these next months and gaining these relationships. The director and the stage manager and everyone, they’re just fabulous. Working with the dance captain Louise [Madison] and all the understudies to help me get ready has definitely been a great process, learning the songs and learning the way of Broadway. It’s different than camera, but it’s still fun. It’s like a mixture of all the things that I’ve done over the years.
For anyone who’s seen the show, there are a lot of rapid-fire punchlines and some physical comedy, which all seems like such a natural fit for you.
Most definitely. When I saw it, I was like, “Oh my goodness, I would love to do this.” It was funny, and it’s one of those shows where anyone can say the lines, and it works, and I love that. It’s got such great writing and great staging. Having to follow [original star] Patina [Miller] is definitely hard, because she has mastered that. I was like, “Oh my goodness, what do I do?”
What elements of Patina’s performance did you want to honor and keep, and what elements of your own did you want to bring to the role?
The thing that I really think about when going into it is not necessarily what I’m going to keep. It’s just learning my lines for what they are, and learning the staging, and understanding the character through [director] Jerry Zaks’ eyes, and the other characters that have been created. The character was created around Patina, so there always will be that special spark in there.
Have you gotten a chance to talk with producer Whoopi Goldberg about the show? What was your interaction with her like?
Well, we did the official announcement on The View, so I was speaking with her there. She’s excited, I’m excited. She has full confidence in the director and the people there, because everyone that’s working on that show is amazing, and it really makes the story and Deloris’s journey come to life.
When you saw the show, what was your favorite part of it? And when you started rehearsals, what became your favorite part of it?
I love when Deloris first meets the nuns. I love that. Kathy Najimy made me crack up in that movie, and the fabulous girl [Sarah Bolt] that’s playing her now is still making me crack up. I love the dynamic between Mother Superior and Deloris. I love the whole story. I was smiling the whole time, and I was really happy I was able to be a part of it. And now, knowing it, it’s the same thing, because now I get to feel the joy and the story line firsthand, rather than watching it.
NEXT: Raven talks stage fright, singing, and who she still keeps in touch with from her Disney Channel days