Douglas Carter Beane: Mister Sister
BY Brandon Voss
April 20 2011 5:25 PM ET
After outing closeted actors in The Little Dog Laughed and invoking ancient muses in Xanadu, Tony-nominated playwright and librettist Douglas Carter Beane puts nuns on the run in Sister Act, which opens April 20 at the Broadway Theatre. Based on the 1992 film and coproduced by the film’s star, Whoopi Goldberg, the Alan Menken–Glenn Slater musical stars powerhouse Patina Miller as Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer who helps a convent choir sound heavenly while she hides in witness protection. During the show’s London engagement, Beane was hired to rewrite the musical’s book prior to its Broadway bow. Also preparing to premiere his musical Lysistrata Jones off-Broadway in May, the To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar scribe explains his personal connection to Sister Act’s setting — and why Spider-Man thankfully stole his thunder.
The Advocate: The Playbill for Sister Act still attributes the book to Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. You’re modestly listed under “Additional Book Material,” a credit also sometimes known as a “script doctor.” Is that an apt description?
Douglas Carter Beane: That implies that I fixed things, but I actually did a complete rewrite. A script doctor would say, “This works, this doesn’t work,” but what I did was an overhaul. I didn’t heed to the original book. I was just asked to keep all the songs in the same order.
Was this your first overhaul of an existing project?
Yeah. That never really interested me before, but the score is so good, and the whole premise is so amazing. I knew everyone would freak out in the beginning about getting a whole new book, but as awful as I knew that would be, I also knew it would be over soon and that everyone would be eventually be happy. I’m relieved that it all worked out.
Meanwhile, another Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, is getting a major script overhaul by another gay writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Can a gay man’s touch save Spider-Man too?
I think so. Sorry, I’m trying to keep all references to sticky fingers off the table. [Laughs] It’s great, because no one seemed to notice that we were overhauling Sister Act because they were all so concerned with Spider-Man. We were completely redoing a $12 million Broadway musical, but no one was paying attention to us because they were too busy watching the $65 million disaster down the street.
You worked with producer Whoopi Goldberg when she did a brief stint in Xanadu. Did she recommend you for Sister Act?
Yeah, Whoopi recommended me to the show’s director, Jerry Zaks, whom I’d never met before. Nathan Lane, who’ll be doing my play that I’m working on [called The Nance], also recommended me. I was lucky to have such high-end job recommendations. I should probably list them at the bottom of my résumé.
How hands-on was Whoopi in your rewriting process?
She’s been very hands-on. She was there giving me notes on my first draft, and she was there giving notes the week before we froze the show. She’s very direct and blunt, just like she is on The View, so you’re not going to get a sugarcoated point of view from her. What happened on the film was that Paul Rudnick created the concept, but then he left the project. Many writers came in after him — Carrie Fisher, Robert Harling, Nancy Meyers — but Whoopi and Maggie Smith also started improvising on camera, so there’s a lot of stuff in the movie that Whoopi actually wrote. She really knows these characters, so she’s been very helpful and supportive.