Karen Richards has played some powerhouse lead actress roles in her theater career, including Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost,” Effie White in “DreamGirls” and MotorMouth Maybelle in “HairSpray.” But she admits to initially feeling helpless in the face of COVID-19.
“I had just moved to New York City from Nebraska at the end of October last year,” she explained. “By March, the restaurant where I was working shut its doors and I found myself out of work. Luckily, I got the call from David Button,” she said of Clear Space Theatre’s artistic director, “and I found myself packing up for Rehoboth Beach a few weeks later.”
Richards was tapped for the lead in “Sister Act,” the feel-good comedy currently running at Clear Space Theatre that will also be featured at the Freeman Stage on Friday, Aug. 21, at 8 p.m. In addition, she plays the role of Jacqueline in “La Cage aux Folles” at Clear Space and is in the ensemble cast of “Cabaret.” Rehearsals for all three musicals — which are being presented at the Rehoboth-based theater on a rotating basis through the end of August — began in early June.
“Typically, I would have around six weeks to rehearse and prepare for a show,” said Richards. “But we ended up rehearsing all three shows simultaneously in less than half that time. Once the decision was made to move forward with performances, we all jumped in with both feet and did what we had to do to get show ready.”
“Sister Act” is based on the hit 1992 film, which starred Whoopi Goldberg in the leading role of disco diva Deloris Van Cartier. When Deloris witnesses a murder, she is put in protective custody in a convent where she uses her musical chops and experience as a Vegas lounge singer to revitalize the church and the community it serves. The show is filled with gospel music, dancing and slapstick humor.
The partnership between the Freeman Stage and Clear Space Theatre dates back to 2008, the inaugural year of the West Fenwick performing arts venue.
“We are committed to partnerships with other Delaware arts organizations, and Clear Space Theatre provides the opportunity to present local musical theater right here in southern Delaware,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, which runs the Freeman Stage. “We are thrilled we can host a beloved musical like ‘Sister Act’ that brings comedy to the Stage at a time when we can all use a little levity and laughter.”
For Richards and the other members of the cast, there is immense gratitude for the opportunity to perform during such a challenging time for the artistic community.
“With so much going on in the world and across our country, performing in these classic shows is a welcome distraction,” she said. “The cast and crew are basically quarantined together to ensure everyone stays safe. We are tested on a weekly basis and follow the science so we can continue bring great theater to the region.”
Tickets for the Aug. 21 performance of “Sister Act” at The Freeman Stage can be purchased at freemanstage.org, where the venue’s public health measures can also be viewed in detail. Tickets are being offered in “pods” for up to four people in a single party to sit at recommended social distances.