Fall musical ’Sister Act’ to be staged off campus — just one of many firsts for Sunny Hills’ theater program

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The group of actors for the fall musical, "Sister Act," rehearse at Buena Park High School's Performing Arts Center. The musical about a 1970s singer hiding in a Philadelphia convent runs from Oct. 17-19 at 7 p.m. Because of PAC modernization at Sunny Hills, audiences will have to travel to Buena Park High School's theater to watch the performance. Photo taken by Accolade photo editor Megan Shin.

Daniel Kong

This fall’s musical, “Sister Act,” will have several firsts for theater teacher Amanda Gieser.

First time the performances will be held off campus — because of Performing Arts Center modernization at Sunny Hills, audiences will have to travel to Buena Park High School’s theater to watch “Sister Act” at 7 p.m. Oct. 17-19.

First time Gieser has added a matinee performance for Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.

“The Buena Park theater has about 100 less seats than we are used to,” Gieser said. “We hope this allows more people to still see the show, and hopefully makes it easier for students to get to the BP campus to see it.”

First-time a transfer student — the daughter of a Sunny Hills English teacher — has landed a lead role.

“Emma Brown [Mr. Greg Brown’s daughter] has started at Sunny this year, coming from Orange County School of the Arts, and landed a lead role as Sister Mary Robert,” Gieser said. “She is just the sweetest — both on and off the stage.”

First time in Gieser’s tenure at Sunny Hills that the 20-member cast is made up of so many students representing other programs on campus — an athlete from the wrestling team (sophomore Zion Mejia), a cheerleader (freshman Evie Coleman) and two officers from Sunny Hills’ Future Farmers of America chapter (senior Katherine So and junior Shaun Im) to list a few.

”Well, last year when I was a freshman, I started doing wrestling and theater, [and I was] new to both,” Mejia said. “My wrestling has nothing to do with my character, but my character and his fellow thugs are the antagonist in the show.”

And first time someone from theater’s ensemble has been offered the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier, a disco diva and aspiring singer placed on protective custody and hiding in a Philadelphia convent in the 1970s. It’s there that she meets her “sisters” and teaches them to sing while sorting out her romantic feelings for Eddie the police officer, played by sophomore Robert Dickey.

Junior Ashley Shin said her biggest challenge as Deloris is having to wear several different disco and nun outfits.

“It is stressful because I don’t have a lot of time to change, but I think it’ll be OK,” Shin said.

Like last year’s musical, “Chicago,” the “Sister Act” cast is made up primarily of girls — only seven are boys.

“I know two guys who were cut during auditions so I’m honored to be given a supporting lead role in this show,” Mejia said. “I encourage everyone to come see the show [as] I believe it’s an [improvement] than last year.”

Shin noted another feature of the cast that Gieser selected.

“The smaller cast this year allows us to become much closer to one another so I’m enjoying it,” Shin said.

Emma Brown said she has been adjusting to the rehearsal schedule.

“The rehearsals are super intense right now, but that’s how it always is in musical theater,” she said. “The week before the [premiere], we may even be rehearsing until 9:30 at night — it’s crazy.”

Gieser said it was a coincidence that “Sister Act” — originally produced as a 1992 movie starring Whoopie Goldberg — is the polar opposite of last year’s musical in terms of the plot.

“There was not an intention to have a stark contrast between ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Chicago,’ “ Gieser said. “It just turned out that they were both largely female ensembles.”

“Sister Act’ was also a production that Gieser has been thinking about staging at Sunny Hills for more than five years.

“I chose Sister Act as this year’s musical because I wanted to choose something with a large female cast, which this has plenty of because of our Nuns Ensemble,” she said. “I also saw this show at Pantages in 2013 and enjoyed it so much. I remember saying that it would be fun to do with students one day, so now that the rights are available, we thought it was a great show to try.”

One musical number that Gieser expects to bring out the most applause is called “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”

“[It’s] a great number that the audience is going to eat up,” she said. “The gangster goons show off their moves and cheesy pick-up lines while they show us their plans to seduce the nuns of the convent.”

Those interested in watching “Sister Act” can pay for tickets online at shhsca.booktix.com or in the quad during break and lunch. Buena Park’s Performing Arts Center is located at 8833 Academy Drive.

In addition to all of the firsts for “Sister Act,” Gieser said audiences will not regret taking the time out to travel to another campus to catch the performance.

“I’m most excited about how much fun the musical is,” she said. “The numbers are fun and upbeat; the story and characters are silly; there is a great message, and everyone has a great time.”