Alan Menken is the musical director of the musical (below) which is being staged at The Theatre of Solaire until July 9

Menken on Sister Act:Love can overcome all differences
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2017 - 4:00pm

“Join the party!!!”

That invitation came from Alan Menken, the musical director/composer of Sister Act, “the musical comedy classic” which opened its two-week run at The Theatre of Solaire last Tuesday (June 27). Produced by Ovation Productions in association with Broadway Entertainment Group and Troika Entertainment, the Manila staging is part of its American production’s Asian Tour 2017.

Behind the musical’s huge success is the creative team of, besides Menken, Whoopi Goldberg as producer and Jerry Zaks as director. Playdate is until July 9 (no extension).

Menken acknowledged that Sister Act is actually his first musical written directly for Broadway, “I love this show so much. I’d go through it all again, gladly. For Sister Act, I always wanted to do something in and all those rich soil of the Set of Seventies pop style.”

Sister Act boasts of a brilliant cast headed by Dene Hill in the role of Deloris Van Cartier (played by Goldberg in the movie versions). Hill is an award-winning international opera singer who has to her recent musical theater credits the international opera tour of Porgy and Bess (as Annie), Civil War (Bessie Tole), the New York off-Broadway premiere of The Butterfly’s Day (guardian angel), with additional musical credits in Dreamgirls, Footloose, Hairspray and Hair.

(Sister Act in Manila is sponsored by Smart, Pradera Verde Wake Park and Diamond Hotel, with Philippine STAR among the media partners. Tickets priced at P6,500, P5,500, P4,500, P3,500 and P1,500 are available online at www.ticketworld or call [02] 981-9999.)

“This is supposed to be a cause for some celebration,” noted Ovation’s Renen de Guia. “I was told that Menken never does interviews.”

All the songs in Sister Act, from Take Me To Heaven to Spread the Word Around, were great and witty and were very much a part of the story-telling. Was there any song that made you work harder or was particularly memorable for you for some reason? What was that song and why?

“As in any new musical, there were certain song moments that were trickier than others to achieve. Establishing just the right tone for our title song, Sister Act, in Act 2 was a case of trial and error. We needed Deloris to come to the conclusion that she cared more about the bond she’d established with the nuns at the convent than her own personal ambitions.

“And yet, we also needed to leave room for her eventual decision to go back to her life, even as she was changed by her journey with her ‘sisters’. And the songs involving the gangsters (When I Find My Baby and Lady in the Long Black Dress) were tricky, in that we wanted to allow those characters to be entertaining and funny without minimizing the offensiveness of their characterizations of women or the violence they employ.”

What were your inspirations in composing the music for Sister Act?

“We drew mostly on the pop music of the ’70s, disco, funk, psychedelic soul, etc.; Donna Summer, The Pointer Sisters, Lou Rawls, The Bee Gees, The Floaters, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, etc.”

The publicity says ‘Based on the Hit Movie.’ What’s the biggest difference, if any, between the movie and the stage play?

“We set our adaptation in the ’70s, as opposed to the ’60s for the movie. And we allowed for more of a romantic relationship between Deloris and Eddie than the movie did.”

After having watched the movie, which scenes did you think the stage play did better?

“That’s a difficult question because the forms are different. A break-into-song stage musical aims for different values than a movie in each scene. It’s Good to be a Nun is funny, especially if one is Catholic.”

Did you contribute some lyrics or you worked purely on the music? Did you interview a nun for research?

“Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics. I’m sure he did whatever research was necessary to be as accurate as possible. But, of course, the main goal was to be FUNNY!”

Was there a scene in the musical that was developed or changed a bit to fit the song?

“Every single scene was changed! To adapt this story as a musical, we made constant adjustments throughout.”

As far as you know, are there changes made in some countries where the musical is staged for whatever reason?

“The only changes that would be made would be to use a local reference to help an audience appreciate the same effect that was achieved with an English or American audience. Thank goodness, MUSIC IS UNIVERSAL and that doesn’t change, regardless of language or cultural context.”

You are loved for songs like Colors of the Wind in Pocahontas, A Whole New World from Aladdin, and the theme from Beauty and the Beast, and many other Broadway songs, which crossed into pop. Have you considered doing a non-Broadway pop song to be recorded by a known artist?

“I have, occasionally, written stand-alone pop songs for certain artists or projects, including The Measure of a Man for Rocky V (recorded by Elton John), My Christmas Tree for Home Alone 2, For Love of You (recorded by Emil Chao) and The Story of My Life (recorded by Sandi Lam).”

Have you thought about doing an additional unsolicited song material in any particular musical for whatever reason or revise an existing song and give it a different melody only because you think that you have improved on it? What song in what musical and why?

“When a musical is done, produced and recorded, I never look back and second-guess my choices. I’d rather move on and start something new.”

What lessons/inspirations will the audience take with them after watching Sister Act?

“There are so many important lessons in Sister Act. It’s important to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Love can overcome all differences. Join the party!!!”

(E-mail reactions at For more updates, photos and videos, visit or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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