“I still can’t believe it,” Florrie Bagel, 24, says from Las Vegas, “Sister Act’s” last stop before D.C.
Where might you have seen her? At Walter Johnson High School, playing Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” At Arlington’s Signature Theatre, where she got a part as one of Cinderella’s stepsisters in “Into the Woods” while she was still in high school. Singing “I Come From the Land of Betrayal” in last year’s concert version of the rock musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona” with the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
For the past year, she has been on the road with “Sister Act.” That Hollywood title was never anyone’s idea of a particularly accomplished movie (in 1992) or musical (it lasted nearly a year and a half on Broadway in 2011-12). But it has reliably attracted audiences ever since Whoopi Goldberg first played Deloris Van Cartier, a worldly nightclub singer who hides out with nuns after she witnesses her mobster boyfriend whacking someone.
The movie was set in the 1990s; the musical takes place in the 1970s, with a score by Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid”) that puts rhythm, blues and Philadelphia soul into a Broadway-ready package. Kathy Najimy played Mary Patrick in the movie. Bagel sings the part now.
“She can do the legit chorale music early in show and then belt with the best with them,” says Christopher Youstra, director of musical theater at the Olney Theatre Center.
Bagel has done several projects with Youstra: “Peter Pan” at Olney, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” at the Studio Theatre, “Nobody’s Perfect” with the Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences. “Nobody’s Perfect,” adapted from a book by Marlee Matlin, included a rapid passage in which Bagel and other cast members rapped while using American Sign Language.
“Singing and rapping and doing ASL is one of the hardest things I’ve ever seen an actor do,” Youstra says.
Kim Peter Kovac speaks affectionately of Bagel’s 2007 appearance with the Young Audiences production of “Nobody’s Perfect” and then her time with the 2010 national tour of the show. As with “Sister Act,” Bagel took a supporting role and made it shine.
“What was so special is that I don’t know if deep down she knows how good she is,” says Kovac, who heads the Young Audiences program. “Back then she certainly didn’t.”
Bagel has been stage-struck since she saw a local production of “Annie” when she was 5. She went home and played all the parts in her basement, learning that it was actually more fun to be the flamboyant Miss Hannigan than the steady Annie.
Two years later she auditioned to be in a summertime kids’ production of the show. She slipped during a dance routine and broke her wrist, but before she was carted to the emergency room, the casting pooh-bahs asked her to sing.