It's dark inside the New World Stages in New York. Actress Patina Miller (A'06) fidgets nervously as she looks out across the empty seats. Her anxiety has nothing to do with stage fright, mind you. This star of "Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy" is about to meet her idol, Whoopi Goldberg, who is on her way to the theater.
"I've looked up to her for so long and have long admired her work," said Miller. "It was a moment I'll never forget." (Watch video of this special meeting.)
Miller is now at the London Palladium, where she's performing in the musical comedy through February 2010.
"I'm playing the role made famous by Miss Whoopi herself, Deloris Van Cartier," Miller explained. "She's a lounge singer with big dreams who happens to be involved with a bad guy. She's very funny, loud, energetic, selfish, passionate, driven ... she will stop at nothing to reach her dreams of becoming a star."
Carnegie Mellon Professor Gary Kline remembers Miller well.
"Patina auditioned for me in Chicago. I was auditioning the hundreds of high school seniors who applied to our Musical Theater Program," Kline recalled. "It didn't take me long — maybe three notes — to know she was an exceptional talent. She was a keeper."
During her sophomore year, Miller took her first voice lesson with Kline.
"My jaw dropped again. This young lady could 'belt' up to a high A flat. Unbelievable!" he said. "We worked on the song 'White Boys' from HAIR, and she sang it at her first Voice Lab. There was an immediate, crazy standing ovation for her. Imagine my joy several years later when this same song and show became her Broadway debut."
Don Wadsworth, a professor of drama at the university, echoed Kline's praises.
"Patina was clearly a dynamic young actor/singer; she could always tear up a song and leave the room breathless," Wadsworth said. "But I must say she also knew how to handle the acting end of things, too. She is a strong young woman and brings herself into the work, which always makes it look authentic and moving."
While extremely pleased, Wadsworth is not surprised by her success. "She showed signs of greatness with real humility in her training in this conservatory program," he explained.
Miller said Carnegie Mellon was a big part of her life.
"It was there that I studied and really realized that I could make my dream a reality," she said. "I'm so thankful to all my teachers who helped me to become the performer I am today. I'm so proud of my school and feel so blessed to have gotten such a wonderful education and made lifelong friends."
She added, "It's a dream come true for me. Really, I'm so blessed and truly happy to be here."