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One could almost say that New Berlin Eisenhower and Muskego high schools are doing a sister act, as both will premiere the favorite musical “Sister Act,” that featured Whoopi Goldberg on-screen.

The show will open Friday, Feb. 17, at Eisenhower and Thursday, Feb. 23, at Muskego.

Both schools jumped on the show as soon as it became available, Eisenhower even before it was announced.

“We suspected early last spring that “Sister Act” would be released for amateur licensing sometime this year,” said Natalie Baertschy, co-director of the Eisenhower show, along with Mary Kirby. “We couldn't get an exact release day for the license, so we searched the website daily. Then, early one morning, before we received the advanced notification, we saw that the show was available. Within an hour we had the license in our hands.”

Music different

One thing that may surprise audiences is that none of the snappy music from the movie is in the stage play.
“I was very concerned, because a lot of people enjoy that music,” acknowledged director James Wanner, at Muskego High. But then he heard the music from the stage version.

“The music in the show is fantastic,” he said. Baertschy agreed: “You can't help but bop your head, tap your toes, or hum along.”

As a bit of a sidelight, the movie was first to come out, then the stage play, Wanner said. Whoopi Goldberg, herself, helped produce the Broadway version, he said. That original production was nominated for Best Musical and for a Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Still, most audiences will be familiar with the iconic Whoopi Goldberg character as a Reno lounge singer who has a target on her back from an annoyed mob boss. She ends up lying low in a San Francisco convent in protective custody, pretending to be a nun.

Original approach

Even though the movie version has made the characters well-known, Wanner said he didn’t want to show the movie to the cast. He didn’t want them to mimic their on-screen characters. For their performances to be authentic, the students have to own their roles, he said. Audiences will be pleased with the approach, he said.

Katie Schneider who is Deloris, Whoopi Goldberg’s part, is a knockout, Wanner said.

“She is fantastic. She’s a very, very strong leading woman.”

The rest of the cast, too, has managed to make the play their own, while keeping the original flavor, he said.

“There’s lots of laughing and moments of inspiration. It’s got it all,” Wanner said.

At Eisenhower, the cast was trolling the depths of their characters, too. The students researched the saints associated with their characters then shared how their nun characters embodied the saints, Baertschy said.

Habits hard

The play presented a challenge that might not be obvious, at first. How do you get so many nun habits, especially when two neighboring high schools are scouring the environs for them?

Muskego’s costumer Donna Vanness called convents and churches all over the area in search of nun habits and overlays for altar boys, Wanner said.

Sets presented another challenge. At Eisenhower, construction and design classes have always helped out, Baertschy said. But this show had a lot of work for them.

“It definitely was a longer term relationship,” she said.

Who's Johnny Carsen?

The Muskego High School cast wasn’t far into rehearsals when Wanner realized that the references that were common in the 1970s were leaving his 21st-century kids in the dust.

For instance, they wondered, who is Diahann Carroll? Also, only some of them knew who Johnny Carsen was. Even Wanner was scratching his head, sometimes – like what’s with the Wawa food market? It turns out to be a large convenience store/gas station chain mainly in the East, Wanner said.

To get the cast all on the same page, the assistant director compiled a translation of some of the more obscure references.
Wanner had to admit, his teenage cast took easily to life of some 40 years ago, especially to the music.

“Disco is very fun stuff,” he said. And hey, “Who doesn’t want to get on stage and dance like John Travolta,” Wanner said, with a chuckle.

Curtain times

Curtain at Eisenhower Middle/High School, 4333 S. Sunnyslope Road, New  Berlin, will be at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 17-18 and 24-25, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 19 and 26.

Appearing in Whoopi Goldberg’s role of Deloris Van Cartier will be Maddie Teipner. Appearing as mother superior, Erin Ashenhurst; as Sister Mary Robert, Katie Dionne; as Sister Mary Patrick, Kenzie McKowen; as Sister Mary Lazarus, Alecia Hough; as Curtis, Brendan Sienko; as Eddie Souther, Grant Schwab; and as Monsignor O'Hara, Cooper Hawley.

Admission will be $12, general, and $8 for seniors and students with identification. All seats are reserved. The box office is at 262-789-6326.

At Muskego High School, W183 S8750 Racine Ave., “Sister Act” will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 23-25, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Tickets are $10, general, $7 for seniors over 60 and children under 12. All seats are reserved and non-refundable. Tickets are available online at mhspac.com.

Appearing as Van Cartier,  Katie Schneider; as mother superior, Emma Milton; as Sister Mary Robert, Cora Trexell; as Sister Mary Patrick, Heaven Lucas; as Sister Mary Lazarus, Carly Steiner; as Sister Mary Theresa, Maddie Rundell; as Officer Eddie Souther, Tannor Tebon; as Monsignor O’Hara, Jacob Bohmann; and as Curtis Brendan, Evan Modglin.

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