Q&A with Sonya Carter of ‘Girls Night’

Q&A with Sonya Carter of ‘Girls Night’
(Courtesy Photo)

By Jordan Wright

Sisterhood is alive and well and coming to The Carlyle Club in Alexandria later this month.

For one night only, five rip-roaring, tell-it-like-it-is women in “Girls Night: The Musical!” will take the city’s most sophisticated nightclub by storm. The production — written by British playwright, author and TV producer Louise Roche — has toured throughout Britian and the United States to rave reviews.

Applause magazine described it as “‘Desperate Housewives’ meets ‘Mamma Mia.’” The all-female cast of characters — including Anita, Carol, Kate, Sharon and Liza — invites gals and their pals to spend a wild girls’ night out, full of song, dance and cocktails served at a karaoke bar.

Director and production supervisor Sonya Carter has racked up more than 250 performances playing one of the characters on tour and off-Broadway. In a recent interview with the Times, Carter talked about the show and its effect on audiences.

Alexandria Times: What was the playwright’s original inspiration?

Sonya Carter: Louise Roche saw a musical in London, and she saw all these women in the audience laughing and having a good time and thought, “I could do this. I could reach these women.” It’s actually about five women that she knew. She wrote about her own experiences, and as a result, she created these five characters that everyone can relate to. She’s really quite brilliant, and the show has had great success in the U.K. playing in large venues. When our producer Tim Flaherty saw it, he went out and purchased the U.S. rights.

How long have you been doing this show?

I’ve been with the show since the U.S. premiere in 2007 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

You came from an executive position in the corporate world. What prepared you for life as a performer and director?

Oh my goodness! Life is life, and people are people. Whether you’re in an executive arena or you’re in theater, it’s all about reading them. My executive experience gave me a lot of patience and taught me to use my words wisely. That is a very good lesson. I reached a point in my life — after I had been in corporate for many years — when I wanted to do something else, and I auditioned for the show and I got the part. For a while I did both.

What are some of the funniest or most heart-warming stories you have heard from audience members after the show?

Every show is different because we break that fourth wall between the performers and the audience. You really get a different response every night. I’ve had so many women come up to me afterward and say things like, ‘I was battling cancer, and this is the first time I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve cried from happiness.’

The show is so much about relationships between girlfriends and sisters and moms. People have told me, ‘I lost my best friend, and you were able to make me laugh. You remind me of her.’

It’s very heartwarming to be able to impact people that way, to make them happy, to bring them joy.

How do the cast members prepare before the show? What revs them up?

We’re dealing with a comedy here, and the dressing room shenanigans are pretty funny. Most of these girls are naturally funny. In the dressing room everyone has her own routine. Somebody will do a silly dance or play music or do a chant. They really do have to connect, because on stage they’re best friends.

These girls travel together, share hotel rooms, and laugh and cry together. They really have learned to love each other and all their idiosyncrasies over 20-plus years. It’s really great to see.

Is there any audience participation?

Plenty! But it’s not intrusive. We allow you to speak back, to dance and sing.  We throw out boas and give tiaras to some.

Over the years you have played three of the five roles. Which is closest to your personal experience?

Well, I’m a little bit of each one. But the first part I played was Liza. She’s always going for the laugh. In that respect I relate to her a lot. Though there are issues Liza has [that] I hope I don’t!

Kate’s the schoolteacher. She’s shy, but during the show, she comes out of her shell and really loosens up after a little wine. Anita is the most complicated character. She has such a big heart. I’d like to think that I relate to her loyalty to her friends.

The characters are really universal. Every night people will say, ‘I am you’ or ‘I am her’ or ‘My friend is like Carol.’ They go on down the line. Sometimes we get large groups of women — moms and daughters or co-workers — and after the show, they’ll come around and take pictures with the character they most identify with.

Who are your favorite comediennes?

I really like Tina Fey. I think she’s absolutely brilliant. I love her writing. Loved her book! She’s my standout. From the past, I like Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball, who I grew up with and can watch over and over again.

Does Louise Roche have any other productions in the works at this time?

She does have a few. She actually wrote a “Girls Night Too” that’s currently touring the U.K. And we are having the U.S. premiere this week of another show she wrote called “Big Pants and Botox.” It’s a one-woman show that is very poignant and funny and sweet.

What do you want women to experience with this show?

I want women to have a good time, to leave the day-to-day things behind and not to worry about tomorrow. To take time for yourself and bring your sister, your mom, your friends to a really great show, because life is really short and you’ve got to laugh.

Is it only for women? 

The show has all the great girl anthems like “I Will Survive,” “It’s Raining Men,” “Lady Marmalade” and more. But men don’t need to be afraid to come. There’s no male bashing. If anything, they’ll get a bit of an education. Sometimes when I’m on stage, I will hear a man laughing louder than any woman.

“Girls Night: The Musical!” will play at The Carlyle Club at 8 p.m. November 30. For tickets and dining information, call 703-548-8899 or visit www.thecarlyleclub.com. There will be a special girls’ night drink menu, and dinner service begins at 6:30 p.m. Street parking is available, or adjacent garage parking is $5. The club sits two blocks from the King Street Metro station.