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Moniz says performing in ‘Sister Act’ is divine experience

Saturday, February 15, 2014
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Florrie Bagel, left, is Sister Mary Patrick, and Ashley Moniz is Sister Mary Robert in “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy,” coming to Proctors Tuesday. (Joan Marcus photo)
Florrie Bagel, left, is Sister Mary Patrick, and Ashley Moniz is Sister Mary Robert in “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy,” coming to Proctors Tuesday. (Joan Marcus photo)

There are enough differences between the 1992 film “Sister Act,” starring Whoopi Goldberg, and the current stage version, “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy,” to keep fans from making comparisons.

At least that’s how it seems to Ashley Moniz, who plays Sister Mary Robert in the national touring production of the 2011 Broadway smash coming to Proctors in Schenectady for a six-day run beginning Tuesday.

“The musical is based on the movie with Whoopi, and I thought it was hilarious,” said Moniz, a California native.

“I loved it. But the movie was set in the ’90s and our show is set in the ’70s. And while the premise is the same, there are other differences as well, and we have an incredible score. If people think they’re going to hear the same music they heard in the movie, well, they’re not.”

They’re also not going to be disappointed. The musical version of “Sister Act,” which lists Goldberg as a producer, earned five Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical and Best Original Score, by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.

‘Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $80-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org

Menken, whose music for three Disney animated features (“The Little Mermaid,” “Pocahontas,” and “Beauty and the Beast”) earned him Oscars, had been deprived of his first Tony Award in the 2011 selection process by “The Book of Mormon.” In 2012, however, he did win a Tony for “Newsies.”

In the spotlight

Sister Mary Robert’s big moment in the show comes early in Act 2 when she sings “The Life I Never Led.”

“Alan Menken is wonderful, and I love singing that number,” said Moniz. “It’s a great score, and since we’re in the ’70s, he’s added a little disco to some of the songs. At times we wear a few sequins, so I think changing it from the ’90s to the ’70s added to the fun.”

“Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy” tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, played by Ta-Rea Campbell, whose aspirations of becoming a superstar in the music business are dashed when she witnesses a crime and is placed in a convent for her own protection. Lynn Wintersteller plays Mother Superior.

“There are so many wonderful characters in this show, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are,” said Moniz. “There are a few Catholic jokes, but it is a great show for family audiences. It’s a great show for parents to see with their kids.”

Youthful roles

Moniz began her performance career as a teenager in high school and at community theaters in the Los Angeles area.

In 2009 she graduated from UC-Irvine, with a degree in musical theater, but not before putting her college studies on hold from May of 2007 to March of 2008 for a stint with the North American tour of Disney’s “High School Musical.”

“I went back to school and, five days after graduating, I moved to New York,” she said. “I lived in the heart of Chelsea, right in Manhattan, and I thought I was going to love it. I was from California but I was ready to be a big-city girl. I found I needed a little escape. There was just too much going on in Manhattan, so I found a quieter area, and now I live in a nice house in Astoria. It’s much more calm.”

Not too long after moving to New York, Moniz landed a role, four of them actually, with the national tour of “Legally Blonde.”

“I understudied Elle [the lead] and played three other characters,” she said. “I was lucky, but I was aching to get out there and do something.”

Moniz was also kept busy in 2011, serving in the ensemble and as understudy for Judy in the national tour of “9 to 5: The Musical.” She joined the current production of “Sister Act” in the summer of 2012 and played a variety of characters before landing Sister Mary Robert, one of the featured roles, in September of 2013.

6-year-old inside

“I’m having a great time, and I know there’s a little 6-year-old in me that’s jumping up and down, so excited about my life and getting the opportunity to sing music written by men like Alan Menken,” she said.

“I loved ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ It was the first show I ever saw when it came out to LA on tour and I know Menken wrote most of that show.

“There’s also a 26-year-old in me freaking out because his music was the stuff I dreamed about singing,” she continued. “I enjoy all kinds of genres, and I love all the singer/songwriter stuff, people like Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, but I love having the opportunity to do this kind of work. It’s amazing.”

Moniz said her mother knew early on that her daughter would be a singer.

“She would tell me a story and then break into song because I wouldn’t take a nap,” remembered Moniz. “Then suddenly one day I started singing right along with her. I always loved singing, and I got the bug for acting quite early, too.”

 
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