A GoPride Interview

Ernie Pruneda

Devine Act: Jerry Nunn chats with Ernie Pruneda from the feel-good musical Sister Act

Tue. November 20, 2012  by Jerry Nunn

There is something magical about the show that makes people leave so happy and changed.
Ernie Pruneda
The feel-good musical smash Sister Act has audiences jumping to their feet and dancing down the aisles at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The high-energy comedy, now on its North American tour, has already landed five Tony nominations and rave reviews from critics and audiences everywhere.

Ernie Pruneda, who plays hit man Pablo, has a strong body of work including Les Miserables, 42nd Street and White Christmas.

ChicagoPride.com's Jerry Nunn caught up with the openly gay actor before he arrived in Chicago.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Ernie. So you are done with the Canadian run of Sister Act?

EP: (Ernie Pruneda) Yes, we just got back.

JN: Hollis Resnik who plays Mother Superior told me it went really well there.

EP: Toronto was awesome. We had such a good time. They welcomed us with open arms and the audiences were amazing. The audience was on their feet at the end, just clapping and dancing with us. There is something magical about the show that makes people leave so happy and changed. Sometimes people don't know what to expect because we are based on a movie but across the board people leave so glad they came. It is great being an actor and seeing the change you make in a country like Toronto. This is why we do what we do!

JN: Tell me about your journey to being a part of the show.

EP: I was part of the original cast on Broadway. I got involved with it because the assistant director, Steve Bebout called me in for it. In the beginning of the show in New York I was a swing and it was exciting, my Broadway debut, I understudied four of the ensemble guys and three of the principles. You never know who you are going to play but it was a blast. I was so happy when they offered me to play a principle on the road. We get to tour the country and spread the love.

JN: Did you meet Whoopi Goldberg when you did Sister Act in New York?

EP: Yes, she came by a lot. She saw the previews and throughout the run. I was fortunate to be on at one time when she was there playing Pablo. That was a dream for me because Sister Act 2 was my favorite movie of all time. It can still make me cry every time I watch it.

JN: Talk a bit about your role.

EP: I play Pablo. He is one of Curtis' henchmen. There are three but in the movie he only had two. We are a trio that backs up Curtis. We have a fun number in the second act that the audience goes crazy for in the second act that's about us sneaking into the convent. When we were in Chattanooga people were screaming for us!

Pablo is a Latin guy that is bilingual in the show. He's a little bit of a hothead.

JN: Do you have to be macho?

EP: I do. If you meet me in real life I am happy and bouncy all of the time. I have tons of energy. It is a lesson in constraint to be on stage and deepen my voice. I am really channeling the guys I went to high school with. I'm from South Texas and there is a really Latin base down there. I remember how they would pose in all their pictures in school and I use that sense of machismo onstage.

JN: You went to Oklahoma City University, correct?

EP: I did. They have a really good musical theater program. I was there for four years and graduated in 2005. I was really fortunate with my training there and had great teachers. I had great vocal and dance training as well. I am really using it now with this disco falsetto. People might call it a Bee Gees sound. I'm so glad I have my classical training to have the best falsetto sound I can have with eight shows a week. Pablo sings the top line of everything so I am in the rafters literally.

JN: I was born in Oklahoma City so I know what it's like there.

EP: Oh really? We are so excited to come to Chicago because I helped my friend moved from Oklahoma City to there. I was there for a week and I loved it. It is like New York but more homey. I'm excited to be there for three weeks.

JN: I will have to take you out to the gay bars.

EP: I am totally down. I will bring all the boys. We would love it! There are a lot of gay boys in the cast and we are trying to go to a big drag show in each city. Of course we all watch RuPaul's Drag Race weekly too.

JN: Do you have a favorite RuPaul drag racer?

EP: I was really sad to see team Latrilla with Latrice and Manilla leave on the All Stars recently. I really like Tammie Brown. She was freaking hilarious.

JN: She's weird.

EP: I know but hilarious weird. Don't you have a friend that is just crazy? You just love them but they are bonkers!

JN: I know what you mean. What is your ethnic background by the way?

EP: I'm from South Texas and I pretty much grew up there my whole life. My family is a mix of Mexican and Spanish. My last name is Spanish and I have a really Spanish look. It is kind of redundant because Mexican is a mix of Spanish and Indian.

My mom's side of the family has been living in Texas for years and they have a lot of land. My dad is second generation American. His mom immigrated from Mexico.

JN: In the program you dedicated your performance to Buddy. Who is Buddy?

EP: (laughs) In every show I do I thank a pet. Buddy is my pet fish I had when I was on Broadway. Now my best friend is taking care of him while I am on the road. He is my little red beta fish named Buddy.

JN: I hope Buddy is doing well because sometimes those beta fish don't live long.

EP: He's still swimming. I bought him like six months ago. My best friend thinks Buddy hates him because he shows his tail and swims away when he looks in the bowl!

JN: So you are a New Yorker now?

EP: I have lived here seven and a half years.

JN: You were in Canada when the hurricane happened?

EP: Yes, we were still in Toronto. We were fortunate to be gone but many of our friends just got back power. My apartment is Midtown so we were on higher ground. It's weird because it is almost like the storm didn't happen there. It is inspiring seeing things on Facebook and hearing stories from my friends. Volunteer programs have been overflowing with people. I am so happy about Obama after that tragedy.

JN: I think we needed it.

EP: I am on cloud nine.

JN: Many people are on cloud nine to see Sister Act.

EP: Great, we will be happy to be there for them!

Catch these nuns on the run through Dec. 2 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway. Order your tickets now at www.BroadwayInChicago.com and pray it's not too late!

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.