Caroline Dask sits down to have a chat with Lizzie Bea, playing Sister Mary Robert, in Sister Act The Musical, coming to Sunderland Empire on 27 November…
Get ready to groove and rejoice as the sensational Sister Act The Musical makes its way to the Sunderland Empire on 27 November! It’s time to experience the ultimate feel-good spectacle that’ll have you tapping your feet and singing along all night long.
It’s a tale as old as time, following a hilarious and heartwarming journey of Deloris Van Cartier, who seeks refuge in the most unexpected place: a convent! Packed with dazzling dance numbers, irresistible music and a whole lot of soul, this uplifting musical, based on the 1992 film, is a must see.
Days before the Sister Act The Musical comes to Sunderland Empire, we sit down to have a chat with the talented Lizzie Bea, an actress originally from West Sussex, on her role, the differences between the film and the musical and the message within.
Playing Sister Mary Robert involves a journey of self-discovery. How do you relate to her character, and what aspects of her journey resonate with you personally?
Being an actress, I think, a lot of people assume that you’re very confident. But actually, a lot of us are quite introverted. I definitely am, especially when I meet people for the first time, I can feel quite anxious. So, her story really resonates with me.
Sister Mary Robert is shy and introverted, and her story shows that sometimes it just takes one person to come into her life and show her that she has this power inside her that she can utilise and become a stronger person. I think that everybody has those people in their lives who bring out the best in them.
What’s different in the stage show compared to the film is that the storyline gets developed so much more in the musical. You get to see her questioning what she wants in life, which again, I can relate to. Her bravery to choose what she wants to do, not what she’s supposed to do is very relatable to me as an actress. It’s a really tough industry to go into and making that choice and saying: ‘That’s definitely what I want to do’ is a risk. But it’s a lovely storyline to play every night and relate to so much of it.
The character of Sister Mary Robert undergoes a transformation throughout the story. How do you approach portraying this evolution from a shy, reserved nun to someone more confident and self-assured?
So, what’s really lovely is that I get to do that transition all within one song. There’s a song called ‘Raise Your Voice’, which transitions all of the nuns, regardless of what their character is at the start, and by the end of it, we are all singing with confidence.
That’s the number where Sister Mary Robert finds her voice in the biggest way. She goes from having absolutely no sound coming out to absolutely belting at the top of her lungs. It’s really lovely getting to do the actual transformation all within one song because you can condense that journey and find all of the key moments and build on them within one song.
Sister Act The Musical is based on a famous film. How do you bring this beloved character to the stage, and how do you make the role your own?
I think what’s really interesting is that, firstly, in terms of my actual physical appearance, I look very different to how people traditionally perceive that role. Sister Mary Robert has always been this stereotypical, thin, meek kind of character. What’s been lovely is that even just from the way I look, I think I’m doing a reinvented version of it as a plus-size actress.
It’s so wonderful that the production team aren’t afraid to change the traditional way of approaching the show.
In the film she does her bit when they’re singing in the convent, she does her high notes and that’s the end of her trajectory whereas in the musical, in act two, I get to sing a song called ‘The Life I Never Led’, which really develops Sister Mary Robert’s storyline in terms of not wanting Dolores to leave the convent because she’s changed her life and questioning whether she needs to stay loyal to God or see what the outside world has to offer.
So, I think the show kind of does it for you in terms of playing it out and making it your own.
The dynamic between Sister Mary Robert and Deloris, played by Landi Oshinowo, is central to the story. How do you navigate and develop this relationship, and how has it been working together?
It’s been lovely! Landi is now the third Dolores that I’ve worked with on my journey with Sister Act. Every single person who does it is completely different. I love that as an actress because it means that your choices don’t become stale. There is going to be a different kind of connection and dynamic and that’s really beautiful because it keeps it a lot more real. With Landi at the moment, it’s a very different pace to the show. She’s very quick and sharp and that brings a completely different kind of pace to everything that I do with her.
This dynamic completely changes in how I say my lines and how quickly our relationship develops. I think the overall relationship with them is that Dolores is just someone who Mary Robert completely idolises.
Everyone I’ve played it with has been completely different. But you just build a relationship with what they’re bringing to the character and that makes my job way more interesting.
What preparations or research did you undertake to understand the life of a nun and to embody the authenticity of Sister Mary Robert’s character?
Sister Act is a film that I grew up with. I watched it all the time and I was obsessed with it. I loved the song ‘The Life I Never Led’ which I now get to sing every night. So it’s a film that I’ve known quite well.
In terms of the actual reality of being a nun, we were really lucky that the Associate Director, Victoria Gimby, had put together this whole research package for us when we were in rehearsals. It was so specific down to how our hands should be when we pray and what our routine would be.
She sent us documentaries to watch to understand what age you would have to be to go into the convent and what age you would have to be to become an actual nun. So, we were able to come up with backstories for our character rehearsals. We did a lot of character research which was so interesting and helped us in knowing how we would interact with each other.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the story of Sister Act The Musical?
I mean, firstly, it’s just a completely joyful show and I know that we all feel so lucky that at the end of every show, people are just so happy in the audience. It’s great that people are coming to the theatre and are able to have a great night of fulfilling music and a joyful story.
There’s something for everyone – there’s comedy, there’s sad moments, there’s amazing vocals, there’s great dancing, great costumes, all of that.
And then from the story itself, it encourages people to be their authentic selves. And by doing that, you will find the people in your life who you’re meant to be with and the place that you’re meant to be. Dolores thinks she’s meant to be this famous singer and by the end of it, she finds that her true family is the nuns.
Sister Act The Musical is playing at Sunderland Empire from 27 November until 2 December, and you can grab your tickets here.