One of the things I’ve always admired about the actress Victoria Clark, now performing in her 11th Broadway production, is that she isn’t afraid to talk publicly about her faith.
Of course, when you’re playing a nun – she is now Mother Superior in the musical “Sister Act” – the topic of religion is bound to come up.
In a March 28 interview with Broadway Buzz on Broadway.com, she joked about the differences between her personal Protestant and professional Catholic experiences: “You know, I’m a United Methodist and I’ve been going to my church and feeling oddly out of place after wearing the habit. I’m not kidding! I was looking for the liturgy. I’m missing all the saints and saying, ‘Where’s my rosary, what’s going on?’ I guess she’s really getting to me.”
The church she is referring to is the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, a United Methodist congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where both of us have been members for years. For those who tuned in to the CBS broadcast of St. Paul and St. Andrew’s Christmas Eve Service, Vicki rocked the rafters with “O, Holy Night” and was instrumental behind the scenes.
Since I’ve seen “Sister Act,” I can report that Vicki makes a convincing Catholic – so much so that she was nominated this spring for a Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical. She and her fellow cast members will be performing during the Tony Awards broadcast this Sunday (June 12).
This is not her first Tony nomination. In 2005, Vicki won the Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical, along with rave reviews, for “The Light in the Piazza.”
When I interviewed her then, Vicki – a Dallas native with a music degree from Yale – talked about how church was “always the main venue for singing” as she was growing up. Her faith also helps her infuse meaning into the roles she plays. In “The Light in the Piazza,” for example, the “light” – to Vicki -- signified compassion, redemption, grace and even forgiveness for Margaret Johnson, the character she portrayed.
To prepare for “Sister Act,” Vicki visited Mother Dolores, who served as inspiration for 1992 “Sister Act” movie, at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. Mother Delores, who later saw the show on Broadway with some of her fellow sisters, helped the actress “make my character real.”
"She said, 'Do me a favor, don't make her pious.' So we talked about humanity," Vicki told Celebrity Buzz: Diva Talk on playbill.com. "She was trying to teach us about how God wants our humanity, not our divinity."
Playing Mother Superior has allowed her to both examine her own religious beliefs and become, well, more ecumenical.
“I'm a United Methodist, where everything gets decided around the table, so there is food all the time, everywhere,” she said in the Diva Talk interview. “There is such a structure in Catholicism and so many different people that you can pray to. And learning about the saints, and learning about marriage intercession, and learning about all the different nuns and the orders, it's just fascinating how much there is to learn.”
Vicki is not the only United Methodist-related connection to a show set in a convent. The playwright Douglas Carter Beane, another Tony nominee, was brought in to provide additional book material for the musical.
“I’m getting all the liturgy down,” he told the New York Times in February. “If you’re raised Methodist, Catholicism is a bit of a workout. It’s sort of like you’re up, you’re down, you’re up, you’re down. It’s a continual hokey-pokey.”