Some theatrical productions are just plain fun. You don’t have to worry about deep meanings or subtleties of the plot. The protagonists are very likable, and the villains are, well, just villainous. That is true of the film “Sister Act” (1992) which starred the incomparable, Whoopi Goldberg. It is also very true of the musical version of “Sister Act” (nominated for several Tony Awards) which features music from Tony and Oscar-winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. When you add this music and lots of great dance numbers, you will “Rejoice!” when you watch this show about friendship and equality.
This is the second time Toby’s Dinner Theater has presented “Sister Act.” If you haven’t seen their production, yet, you will want to catch it this time. If you saw it once, you will still enjoy seeing the wonderful cast lead again by Ashley Johnson-Moore and includes Lynn Sharp-Spears, Gerald Jordan, Mary Kate Brouillet , Valerie Adams Rigsbee, Lynn Sigler, Robert Biedermann, Ryan Holmes, Jordan B. Stocksdale, Brian Dauglash, and Anwar Thomas. Mark Minnick is both director and choreographer.
I had a chance to chat with Ashley Johnson-Moore who is reprising her role for Toby’s as the lead character, Deloris Van Cartier, made famous by Whoopi Goldberg.
Ashley Johnson-Moore is excited to be back with her Toby’s family! Favorites include “Ghost” (Oda Mae-2023 Helen Hayes nominee, Best Supporting Performance), “The Wiz” (Dorothy), “The Color Purple” (Squeak), “Memphis” (Felicia Farrell) and “Sister Act” (Deloris Van Cartier – 2017 Helen Hayes nominee, Best Actress).
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Havre De Grace, Maryland with my husband (James), our two children, son Luke (13), daughter Noa (4), and our puppy, Payton. I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA, NY).
What performing arts training have you had and where?
I started singing when I was three. As a kid, I would sing with the adult choir at church, and because I was so tiny, they’d stand me on the table so everyone in the congregation could see me. When I turned 14, I begged my parents not to put me in camp. They found a Youth Theater program at Arena Players in Baltimore. The rest is history! I studied there under the late Robert Chew, best known for his role as Proposition Joe in the hit show “The Wire” and Troy Burton, current tour manager for American jazz vocalist, Maysa Leak. Robert and Troy showed me what it means to be a true artist and how to be honest under the lights. I studied with them for four years before moving to NYC to attend AMDA.
This is the second time you have played Deloris Van Cartier at Toby’s in “Sister Act.” How is the character most like you and what is the biggest difference between Ashley and Deloris?
Deloris and I are similar because we connect to people by just being ourselves. We are both very honest and cherish true friendships. We are also different in many ways! The most obvious way is I do not like to be the center of attention (surprise!) I am an introvert. Deloris loves to walk into a room and have all eyes on her while I’d much rather sneak quietly into a room. Also, Deloris’ sense of fashion is very flashy, very fitted, with very bold options. This is her everyday attire. I am quite modest in my personal style. My fashion icons are Audrey Hepburn and Princess Diana, and I model my sense of style after theirs.
You have been performing at Toby’s in many productions. What do you most enjoy about performing there?
I’ve been working at Toby’s for almost 17 years. What I enjoy most about Toby’s is the team. First, we have Lady Toby herself who is a creative genius. She has always been incredibly honest with me about my gifts and has been influential on my life. She’s pulled things out of me on stage of which I didn’t even know I was capable. I am forever grateful!
Toby’s has the right people. My stage manager, Cheryl Stansfield, works just as hard behind the scenes as we do on stage, and she is someone I can trust. That is how I feel about the entire production staff. When you find yourself in environment that feels like home and it makes you happy, you’re very happy with staying there. I love our productions and what we accomplish as a team. It doesn’t feel like I am going to work. Its feels like I am at my second home.
Is there a role you would like to play in the future?
Dream role? I’ve been fortunate to play all the roles I’ve ever wanted. I’d love to play Felicia Farrell from “Memphis the Musical” and Roxy Hart from “Chicago” again. Those two characters have been my absolute favorite to play.
“Sister Act” runs through November 5, 2023 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia MD 21044. For more information and tickets, go online. The admission price includes brunch or dinner. Shows run Tuesday-Saturday and doors open at 6 pm. There are two performances on Sundays with doors opening at 10:30 am and 5:00 pm. Doors opening at 10:30 am for Wednesday matinees.