Local sister has her 'Act' together doing the Goldberg variations

Posted: March 29, 2013

HOW'S THIS for an ultimate Quaker City show-biz trifecta? A musical set in Philadelphia, featuring an actor from Philadelphia in the lead role, is coming to Philadelphia.

The show for which the cheesesteak-shaped stars have aligned is "Sister Act," which on Tuesday opens a six-day, eight-performance run at the Academy of Music. Based on the hit 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film comedy about a casino lounge singer hiding from gangsters in a convent, the touring stage production stars West Oak Lane native Ta'Rea (pronounced ta-REE-a) Campbell. She portrays Deloris Van Cartier, whose being in the wrong place at the wrong time causes her to seek refuge by posing as a nun.

Although Campbell's professional credits also include such shows as "The Lion King" and "The Book of Mormon," she didn't set out on a career in musical theater.

"I didn't discover musical theater until later in life," said Campbell, who attended J. Hampton Moore Elementary School, Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. "I went to [Marymount College], in New York, and got my degree in acting. I always wanted to do straight theater."

While at Marymount, a friend convinced Campbell to try out for a school musical. She didn't get a role, but, as it turned out, she did get a career path.

"The head of the musical theater department - her name is Pat Simon - said, 'Who are you? And why aren't you in the musical-theater program?' " she recalled. "She let me audit a number of musical-theater classes, and I wound up minoring in musical theater."

It's not that musicals were totally alien to her. She performed in CAPA shows, and she developed her vocal chops as a child by singing in church. "But," she offered, "I always knew I wanted to be a dramatic actress. Look at me now!"

Campbell, whose next big production is her upcoming wedding to Jonathan Dinklage, a violinist who is serving as concertmaster for the new Broadway musical "Matilda," admitted to having mixed emotions about coming home to perform.

"It is kind of cool," she said. "I'm super excited to be performing in Philadelphia. I cannot wait.

"I always have a healthy dose of nervous energy before I perform onstage. The 175 people that my mom is bringing opening night won't really squash that."

Campbell added that her mother is bringing dozens more to other performances during the week. "There is going to be someone I know in the audience every night," she noted, "and that is exciting and terrifying and heartwarming."

That she is starring in a role created by Goldberg marks the continuation of a somewhat special role that the raspy-voiced actress-talk-show-co-host has played throughout Campbell's life.

" 'Sister Act,' " she explained, "was a favorite movie of mine, and I adore Whoopi Goldberg. I think she's amazing. It was the movie, 'The Color Purple,' which she starred in, that gave me the acting bug. I always felt I had a thread with her because of that movie.

"Then, when I moved to New York, the first thing I ever auditioned for was a spot on her TV show. And I booked it. That was the first time I met her.

"Then I went on to do 'The Lion King' for many years. She was [the voice of Shenzi] in the movie. She came to do 'The Lion King' on Broadway as a promotional thing for the show, and I met her again. We spoke again when she came to see 'The Book of Mormon.' We talked for 45 minutes after the show.

"And here I am, working in 'Sister Act.' She came to rehearsal and we had a lovely conversation. It's so interesting there's this thread with her throughout my career. I think she's a brilliant woman."

Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, $115-$25, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

Inside the mind of Iago

 One of William Shakespeare's most indelible characters, Iago, from "Othello," will be the subject Saturday of a therapy session conducted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb, longtime host of "Voices in the Family" on WHYY-FM (90.9), at whose studio the program will take place.

The villainous Iago will be portrayed by actor J Hernandez in the hourlong presentation co-sponsored by WHYY and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Co.

"I have been a great admirer of Dr. Dan for many years, and am so excited for this opportunity to work with him," said Carmen Khan, the company's artistic/executive director. "We really feel that this 'therapy session' with Iago is a new and exciting way to break out of the traditional artistic process and invite people into the mind of one of literature's greatest villains."

WHYY, 150 N. 6th Street, 2 p.m. Saturday, $35 and $25 (WHYY members), 215-496-8001, phillyshakespeare.org.

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