Whoopi Ain't Breaking The Habit

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hold on to your habits, sisters, Whoopi Goldberg is set to return to the convent, when she takes over the role of Mother Superior from Sheila Hancock, in the revamped London stage musical, Sister Act, of which Goldberg is also the producer. In the movie version from the early 1990's, Goldberg previously played the role of struggling lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (now played by Patina Miller) who is forced to hide out in a convent as Sister Mary Clarence after witnessing a murder. It is interesting that Goldberg will now be watching someone else play her iconic character, and boy will she have fun being a thorn in her side, much like the original Mother Superior (played by Dame Maggie Smith) was a thorn in hers.

In 1992, Touchstone Pictures approached The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler with a role they felt she would be perfect for. In the movie version of Sister Act, the story would focus on a rebellious lounge singer with a near-nonexistent career and a married boyfriend, who after seeing her guy waste a limo driver for squealing to the law, fears she will be next on his list. Christy Van Cartier (the character's original name) would be forced to hide out in a convent pretending to be one of the nuns presided over by the very stern and strict Mother Superior until she could testify against her mobster boyfriend. The movie would be a mix of comedy interspersed with musical numbers.

Midler, however, felt that nobody would feel she was very convincing as a nun, even in a comedy, so she turned down the role. Knowing they had a potential hit on their hands and wanting someone in the role who could handle comedy and sing up a storm, with Midler now out of the picture, the studio then had an idea that seemed even more incredulous, they turned to Whoopi Goldberg to see if she would be interested. They even changed the lead character's name to one better suited for Goldberg's personality. Christy became Deloris Van Cartier, and later Sister Mary Clarence when she was undercover. Goldberg is perhaps the only performer who can match Midler at her bawdy best, and like Midler, Goldberg had proved herself to be both a marvellous comedienne and a powerful dramatic actress. However, what nobody knew at the time was the answer to the all-important question, could Goldberg sing like Midler.

The answer is no. Nobody could sing like Bette Midler, but Whoopi Goldberg could sing like Whoopi Goldberg and that in itself turned out to be a fantastic revelation. At first, Goldberg was reluctant to handle the vocal duties, fearing that she might not be able to perform to a reasonable standard. However, at the urging of singer/actress Jenifer Lewis who played one of Goldberg's back-up act in the lounge singing scenes (along with Charlotte Crossley), Goldberg amazed everyone with her proficiency as a singer and gave her all to a performance which turned out to be perfection. So popular was Sister Act, that the following year gave rise to a sequel, Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, which was as much a smash hit as its predecessor. Both films also provided a CD soundtrack album in which Goldberg once again shined as a singer. Another interesting fact is that Jenifer Lewis and Charlotte Crossley (better known now as Charlo Crossley-Fortier) were both one-time members of Bette Midler's Staggering Harlettes troupe. Another link between Midler and Goldberg is that they both worked with Kathy Najimy around the same time, with Hocus Pocus and Sister Act 2 both being made in 1993.

What I feel would be a great idea, and I am sure there are many Sister Act fans who would agree with me, is if Whoopi Goldberg were to make a third movie in the series and possible have Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence become the new Mother Superior for a new generation of nuns, after the emergency exodus of the Maggie Smith character (for whatever reason) from the first two movies. Complications could ensue when it is discovered that not only is Sister Mary Clarence unqualified for the position in either legal or theological respects, but she isn't even a real nun. There are so many great plot lines from this scenario, so hopefully someone may be interested in adapting this fantasy of mine.


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