Ta'Rea Campbell: the Real Deal in 'Sister Act'

Cast of Sister Act
Joan Marcus
Cast of Sister Act

It isn’t easy being Ta’Rea Campbell these days, but it sure sounds like a lot of fun.

Campbell—who has had so far an impressive career in Broadway-style musical theater that might take some folks the better part of a lifetime to achieve—is starring in the national tour of “Sister Act,” the hit Broadway musical take on the popular 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy. Campbell plays, and Whoopi played a diva on the lam from the mob who enters a San Francisco convent and makes it a hideout. Laughter then—and laughter and music now—ensued.

The show is now at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House through Nov. 10 as part of an extended tour that’s a hectic pace for Campbell, who’s starred in “The Lion King,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Aida” among other hit shows.

“I have to admit this so far in my career has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” the Philadelphia native said. “It’s hard work, but it’s fun because the role is so much fun. And when we were doing rehearsals, I met Whoopi who was looking in. She was the most fun, the nicest, most helpful person, just couldn’t be better. I admire her a whole lot, but you can’t just imitate her. You have to find your own way in it, how it relates to you. Seeing her in 'The Color Purple' and the movie itself inspired me to want to become an actress.”

“You know what it is,” she said. “This is it. This is me. There’s a lot of responsibility there, you expend a lot of energy. In “The Lion King,” I was only on stage for less than an hour. Here, I’m on stage pretty much all of the time. That’s work.”

But Campbell sounds like the optimist, glass-half-full or probably mostly full type, and she’s been wowing them all across the country. The biggest wow probably occurred in April in Philadelphia, where the show played there for a short run. “That’s my hometown," Campbell said. "That’s where I grew up. Everybody I knew came, my family, everybody. Here’s the thing: because the show’s setting has been changed from Las Vegas to Philadelphia, the first line of the show is naturally ‘Hello, Philadelphia.’ That was kind of a big line for me.”

Campbell started out wanting to be a dramatic actress. “I still want to do that, but you know, in this business, things happen," she said. "You can’t envision the future. Everybody’s got dreams. Mine were a little different. I studied acting, but ended up in musical theater, which has been an amazing experience.”

“What’s great about this show for me is that I can do everything in it—sing (disco, gospel). I can clown it. I can act. So, it’s kind of perfect."

“I’ve been blessed,” Campbell said. “My boyfriend, who’s a musician, he’s a violinist, and I got engaged. He’s working in New York where I live. I get to take Stevie, my beautiful Chihuahua-Beagle mix with me. Stevie is great company.”

“Sister Act” features a score by Alan Menke and is directed by Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks.

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