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Sister Act - Broadway

Raven-Symoné stars in this divine musical comedy based on the popular film!

Sister Act Star Carolee Carmello on Mamma Mia!, Parade and Her Broadway-Bound ‘Role of a Lifetime’

Sister Act Star Carolee Carmello on Mamma Mia!, Parade and Her Broadway-Bound ‘Role of a Lifetime’
Carolee Carmello
Carolee Carmello is equally at home singing ABBA and playing a nun!

Carolee Carmello is a natural-born Broadway star who can shift with ease from comedy to drama and back—not to mention sing the hell out of any musical score! Currently finishing up a run as Mother Superior in Sister Act, Carmello hopes to be back on Broadway soon as Aimee Semple McPherson in the latest incarnation of Saving Aimee—which may get a new title after its seven-year pre-Broadway odyssey. Her Role Call roster also includes two Tony-nominated performances, the long-running hit Mamma Mia! and two lesser-known shows that resonate for personal reasons.

Role That Was the Most Satisfying
Parade [1997, as Lucille Frank; Best Actress Tony nomination] was the first time I created a role from the ground up for a Broadway musical, and working with people like [director] Hal Prince, [librettist] Alfred Uhry and [composer] Jason Robert Brown was thrilling. Lucille starts out as an innocent, entitled, very Southern woman, who happens to be Jewish; there is a poignancy in how she expects to be taken care of. As her life changes with regard to her husband [Leo being accused of murder], she grows up and becomes a passionate force to be reckoned with. It was probably the best written role I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on. The frustrating thing was that we closed prematurely. The last week of performances, I cried in my car all the way to the theater because I knew it was going to be ending. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about a show closing.”

Role That I Was Funniest In
“At the other end of the spectrum from Parade is Bells Are Ringing [1999, as Ella Peterson], which I did in Los Angeles for the Reprise concert series. It’s a Comden and Green show with so many great musical comedy scenes: I got to do voices, answer the phones on a switchboard and jump around like a lunatic—all this silly stuff—but it also has romantic moments like ‘The Party’s Over.’ I just think it’s a wonderful show, and it was very satisfying to use my comedy chops.”

Role That Fans Ask Me About Most
“I was in Mamma Mia! [as Donna Sheridan] for a total of four years [on and off, beginning in 2004], so a lot of people saw it and tell me that they want me to go back. People are passionate about that show in a way that I don’t completely understand. It’s the alchemy of the ABBA music and the ’70s nostalgia and the Spandex and bright colors—people just have a great time. It’s also one of the few shows where you get to see female friendships among women of a certain age. I had a good time and made a lot of friends over the four years, so I would consider going back at some point.”

Role With the Most Enjoyable Onstage Moment
“One of the most fun things I’ve ever done onstage was in Lestat [2006, as Lestat’s mother, Gabrielle; Best Featured Actress Tony nomination], when my character has her first ‘kill’ after becoming a vampire. I was choreographed to run from one side of the stage to the other, leap on the back of a passer-by and take him down. It was a blast! The guy that I bit, Chris Peluso, later did Mamma Mia! with me as Sky. I’d rather not bash Lestat. It had so much going for it, with [original author] Anne Rice and [composer] Elton John and great lyrics by Bernie Taupin. I got to bite and be bitten in that show, so it was exciting. The role had a rawness and a freedom that you rarely get to experience onstage.”

Role With Great Sentimental Value
“The shows I did when I was pregnant have special meaning. The first one was the off-Broadway musical john & jen [1995], where I aged from six years old to 50. It was the story of a brother and sister; in the second act, the actor who played my brother became my son. The music was by Andrew Lippa, who went on to compose The Addams Family, and the lyricist was Tom Greenwald, a very talented writer who is now at SpotCo ad agency. I had been working on the show for years, and when the director, Gabriel Barre, called and said, ‘We’ve booked the Lamb’s Theater!’ I said, ‘Oh no, Gabe, I’m pregnant!’ They bent over backward to let me open the show and built costumes that camouflaged the fact that I was growing rounder every day. My daughter is now going to be a senior in high school, so when I look back at john & jen, I have great memories.”

Role That Was the Most Demanding
Saving Aimee [three regional productions in 2005, 2007 and 2011] was like running a marathon every night. It’s the most difficult singing as well as the most physically demanding show I’ve ever done. Aimee Semple McPherson was a groundbreaking evangelist in the 1920s and ’30s who did tent revivals and eventually built a million-dollar temple in Los Angeles. She was as famous as many movie stars of the time, with three husbands and [many] lovers; she was also an addict who died of a drug overdose. It’s the role of a lifetime, because you get to age from 17 to 54. [Librettist/lyricist] Kathie Lee Gifford conceived the show for two actresses, a younger and an older version. When I went in, I said, ‘Have you considered having one person play both roles?’ Kathie said, ‘That’s crazy,’ but she gave me a shot, and it’s never gone back. They’re saying the show is headed to New York [under the new title] Scandalous. I hope so—but I never believe anything until I’m in my dressing room.”

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