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
Do you get stage fright any more? Was there ever a moment in rehearsals when you realized, “Wow, I have to carry this entire show. How am I going to do this?”
I have life fright. Forget a stage, I have life fright! You know, very, very, very egotistically speaking — like, beyond egotistical — I’ve been very prepared in a sense to carry a show, being on That’s So Raven and with the different characters that I’ve done, because I understand that it’s not just me on that stage. It’s not necessarily “I’m carrying the whole show,” it’s just my face out there for right now. But everyone else has been a part of the show for so much longer than I have, so they’re going to be carrying me for a while.
Vocally, this has to be unlike anything you’ve ever done. Essentially, the song “Raise Your Voice” is just a bunch of sopranos going crazy. How have you dealt with the vocal demands?
Well, Eric Vetro, he’s a fabulous, well-known vocal coach that they told me to go to because they wanted to make sure that I could do what I needed to do on stage. He taught me some tips and tricks on where to hold your voice, and everything like that. But can I tell you, when I was younger, I used to sing like that in my room by myself. I was hoarse when I went to class. But I loved doing that. I’ve always been a fan of Chaka Kahn and Patti LaBelle and those ladies with the real, big, loud voices, and [I love] being able to be a part of a show with people like that, hitting those notes but now understanding how to hit them and not just screaming at the top of your lungs.
Do you have any friends on Broadway or who have been on Broadway in the past that have given you any tips?
My friend is actually on Broadway! Ricky Ullman! He hit me up and I told him, “You know, I love you to death, but I will have to call you after opening night because my mind doesn’t work during the day during rehearsal.” He’s always been someone that [even though] I won’t talk to all the time, when we do meet up, it’s like we’re old buddies. We have that connection. I’m so proud of him and his journey, and definitely coming from the same channel and network and year, it’s cool.
I think a lot of people would be very interested to know that you still keep in touch with him, that Disney Channel Circle of Stars, even though the baton’s been passed.
We are the class of ’03! It’s funny. I mean, I don’t want to lie, it’s not like we talk all the time, but we still keep in contact because we were a part of something like that. Even if I see anyone from our time on the channel, it’s like a camaraderie, you know?
Tell me a little about the transition between stage and TV. There’s no one to yell “Cut!” in the middle of the show. How have you handled it?
That’s the awesome part. You really get to go through it. You get your notes after and then you have to change it the next show, I’m sure. But being able to go through and play a character without stopping — like you said, it’s just go, go, go. I love that. I think it’s a great concept, and being that I haven’t been on stage in front of an audience and done the whole thing just yet, I’m not jinxing myself because I might faint at the end because I’m so tired. But I think that it’s gonna be fun. I can’t wait. It reminds me of a concert. It reminds me of putting a TV show and a concert in the same food processor and making a cool little smoothie.
Tell me a little bit about the costumes, because Deloris has some ridiculous costumes.
What!? You don’t like silver lamé? I think I look fabulous, baby! I haven’t worn cheetah in a minute, but I’m making it work.
Do people still come up to you and say “That’s so Raven”? Will you ever be able to escape the catchphrase?!
Well, you know what’s funny? This is a total compliment. I love it because it’s my name! But people definitely do, and if it stops, I think I would be sad, you know? I love knowing that people watched the show, because I had such a great time doing it, and that was definitely a part of my life that I enjoyed. Nothing will ever come close to that. But I do have to say, the cast members here… I walked on stage, and I’m like, “You guys have the same feeling that we had on our set.” And that’s very important. I think that’s one of the things that keeps me in the industry, after all the craziness, knowing that I have a family to go to and work with, and then go back home to another family, which is awesome.
Do you think you’d make a good nun?
[Laughs] I have a different spiritual base; I don’t know if I’d make a good nun. But I appreciate what they do. You have to appreciate what they do. But I don’t know. They’d be like, “Raven, shut up.” I really would become a Deloris van Cartier. I really do believe that I would be that way in the convent, and then I’d cry at night.