Theater & Dance
Dawn L. Troupe

Current show: "Sister Act"
By: Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Bill Starr
Choreographed by: Jim Ambler
Music direction by: Rick Reynolds
Featuring: Dawn L. Troupe, Beth Anne Wells Viloria, Jessica Maxey, Melissa Costa, Darlene Batchelder, Robert Sholty, Gary Stanford Jr., Jim Ambler, Sheraj Ragoobeer, Sam Nachison, Nick Dale, Rachelle Abbey, Katie Tupper, Olivia Chavez, Lindsay Kelliher, Susan Melanson, Sara Rangel-Murphy, Alexandra Nemchik, Minie Pullon, Arielle Rothman, Kyle Arrozet, Jay Thulien, Nicholas J. Garland, Ray Ross
When: May 4 through May 28, 2017
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $28-$48; call 650-349-6411, extension 2, or visit

Read Tony Lacy-Thompson's review of "Sister Act"

Dawn Troupe
Tracy Martin / Hillbarn Theatre
Dawn L. Troupe as Deloris Van Cartier, pretending to be Sr. Mary Clarence, right, gets a load of the singing of the nuns as City of Angels Church in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of "Sister Act," May 4 through May 28, 2017.
Dawn L. Troupe: Sharing
a melody from her heart
Born to sing and perform, she's starring
in 'Sister Act' at Hillbarn Theatre
May 7, 2017

Dawn L. Troupe is a performer directors call on when they need someone with a big, capable voice, fine dance moves and a powerful presence on stage.

She owned the stage as Shug in "The Color Purple" at Hillbarn Theatre, earned critical raves as Sarah in "Ragtime" at Broadway By The Bay and was a standout in "Once On This Island" at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and in lots of other shows all over the Bay Area. At the moment, she is a knockout as Deloris Van Cartier in "Sister Act" at Hillbarn Theatre.

But all that stage power took work. It didn't come easily.

"Getting out from behind" took some getting used to, she said in a recent phone interview from her home in the East Bay. "I had a fear of performing in public spaces, a fear of being extroverted. I grew up very shy and introverted.

"I have to fight to maintain this voice. It's work. It's not the easiest thing to get out and give your soul to the public the way we do. Making ourselves vulnerable. It's work. You have to love it."

But, Troupe is the daughter of a minister, and a mother who sang in church, and doesn't take this performing deal lightly.

"Watching my mother sing in church, and growing up singing in church, I feel if I don't do it, I'm doing a disservice to myself. We should be sharing our gifts. Oh, my God, if I can share a melody that comes from my heart, then I'm serving, I'm doing what I should be doing."

How fitting, then, that she is the big star of "Sister Act" at Hillbarn Theatre.

The musical is based on the 1992 musical comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg, which was one of the most popular and financially successful movies of the early 1990s. The stage version debuted at Pasadena Playhouse in 2006, where it was the biggest money maker ever at that venue, according to Broadway World.

Troupe plays the Goldberg part — that of a brassy, worldly nightclub singer who becomes a witness to a crime, and has to hide in a convent in order to not be murdered before she can testify against a gangster.

The monsignor is doing a cop a favor to hide Deloris by putting her in a nun's habit, even though the mother superior isn't happy about it. The church is in financial trouble, and nobody wants to come its choir sing, because the sisters just can't sing.

Deloris teaches the nuns to sing, and the nuns teach Deloris how to be a better person, and what it's like to have some real friends. Sweet story.

"It's fantastic, showing the relation between how we see each other in the world and how we are. The mother superior and her conversations with Deloris," Troupe said. "Deloris is there to help save this place. The mother superior prayed for help, and Deloris is the save, but she can't see it at first. And Deloris doesn't see how important the nuns are to her. ...

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"Deloris sings in dirty clubs and what not, but then, hiding in a church with her background, the epitome of being open to everyone no matter where they're from — you see yourself in others, and become open to others."

Troupe also had praise with the team putting on the show.

"Working with Bill Starr — he's a fantastic director. He starred in 15 Broadway shows. And [Hillbarn Artistic Executive Director] Dan Demers and the other great folks at Hillbarn. And working with Jim Ambler, who's playing Eddie [the cop with a crush on Deloris]. He's back from Broadway recently, too. It's so incredible, being on stage with seasoned performers — and with the newbies as well. There is a real energy when you work with people who are seasoned and new."

Troupe was born in Berkeley but raised in Oakland — "My parents wanted to buy a house big enough for seven children."

Four girls and three boys.

Leibow, Troupe
Willows Theatre
Jeff Leibow, left, and Dawn Troupe in Elton John and Tim Rice's musical "Aida," which got its West Coast premiere at Willows Theatre in Concord, in 2005.

"Boys are easier," said Troupe. "I always say thanks to my mom. My dad has passed, but Mom is still here. Her birthday is in August. She's very stubborn, she's going to live forever.

"We are very, very family oriented," said Troupe. "My grandparents had Sunday dinner, with everybody coming over, and my mom continues the tradition."

Troupe's own child, Jeremy, is 25, a sommelier at Sabio on Main, a tapas restaurant in Pleasanton.

"My lovely son Jeremy," said Troupe. "We grew up together. He's 25, an amazing young man. No one thought he was my son because I tend to look far younger than I am. I looked like a teenager when I was pregnant."

Back when she actually was a teen, Troupe got an A.A. degree in Fine Arts, then went on to Cal State East Bay, where she went to school with James Iglehart (currently a Broadway star) and Noel Escobar (theater stages and singing events all around the Bay Area), and earned a B.A.

She got a master's degree in theater production at Central Washington University, then came back to the Bay Area, where, besides being busy on professional stages, she teaches drama at Centerville Junior High School in Fremont.

"I love, I love, I love the students," she said.

She has graced stages from Cal Shakes to Berkeley Rep to Aurora Theatre to San Jose Stage to Broadway By The Bay to Ubuntu Theater Project (where she is a company member) to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, where she got her big start after college.

"I love Robert Kelley [founder and artistic director of TheatreWorks] and Leslie [TheatreWorks casting director] will always be a hero to me. She took risks when I first got out of college. Since then, I've been a fan of TheatreWorks. When I started going to auditions in New York and Los Angeles, I would call Leslie for advice."

Among many other shows, Troupe was in the first group that work-shopped "Memphis" at TheatreWorks New Works Festival, a show that went on to Broadway, taking her friend James Inglehart along with it.

"The Bay Area is one of the best, most fertile grounds for performance artists," Troupe said."I have worked in the Bay Area my entire career. I've been back and forth to New York, but decided to raise my son here.

"I've had the opportunity to work with Tony Award-winning folks here. It's crazy."

And she's worked on some black-centric theater projects, such as Marcus Gardley's "Black Odyssey" at Cal Shakes, and explained the need for black theater.

"Theater is a world where everything is imaginary, right? But we still get caught up on casting roles based on a history that is one-sided. It is necessary to have communities that represent a broader paint brush.

"We've heard if you want to be in theater, create your own theater. Folks of color started creating theater. If you want to see yourself in theater, write the role. Sometimes you have to be an innovator.

"It's necessary. More companies now are run by folks of color. In order to be seen, they have to be at the helm."

And, regarding college, she said, "I might go back. Little girl will never give up. I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid. Just to satisfy my little girls, I'll do it. I have an affinity for education. I really enjoy it."

Email John Orr at

Jackson, Troupe
Tracy Martin / Hillbarn Theatre
Dawn L. Troupe as Shug dances with Anthone D. Jackson as Mr. __________ at the juke joint in "The Color Purple" at Hillbarn Theatre, May 8 through June 6, 2014. In the background, dancing with the woman in the red dress, is Gary Stanford Jr., who is in the cast with Troupe in "Sister Act," on stage at Hillbarn May 4-28, 2017.
Ivy, Troupe
Mark Kitaoka / Hillbarn Theatre
Leslie Ivy, left, as Celie, and Dawn L. Troupe as Shug in "The Color Purple," running at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City through June 6, 2014.
Troupe, DeLeon
Broadway By The Bay
Dawn L. Troupe as Sarah, left, and Kieleil DeLeon as Coalhouse in the Broadway by the Bay production of "Ragtime," in 2005.
Troupe, Michael
Kevin Berne / California Shakespeare Theater
Dawn L. Troupe, left, and Anthony Michael in the Cal Shakes musical "Spunk" in 2013.
Troupe, Gardner, Moore
David Allen / Aurora Theatre
Dawn L. Troupe as Dorcas, Lance Gardner as Frank and David Everett Moore as Addison, from left, in "Safe House" at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre in November 2016
Troupe, Hartfield
Colin Blattel / Ubuntu Theatre Project
Dawn L. Troupe, left, and William Hartfield in Ubuntu Theater Project adaptation of Marcus Gardley's "The Gospel of Lovingkindness," which was staged in January 2016.