The Alliance Theatre’s production of Nunsense is a madcap comedic musical that showcases a wacky gaggle of multi-talented performers who are absolutely ‘nuntastic.’ Scott Olson’s direction allows each member of this Sisters to have her own moment to shine as they present ballet and tap dance numbers, vaudevillian skits and gags, gospel-like songs, and a cute audience quiz.
Nunsense is a 1985 musical comedy with book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin. Originating as a line of greeting cards, Goggin expanded the concept into a cabaret that ran for 38 weeks, and eventually into a full-length musical. Nunsense has won prestigious Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Off-Broadway Musical of 1986, Best Music, and Best Book.
The surviving sisters of the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally killed the other fifty-two residents with her tainted French cooking. Upon discovering the disaster, Mother Superior had a vision in which she was told to start a greeting card company to raise funds for the burials. Her plan is so successful that she is able to bury most of the nuns. In order to raise money to bury the remaining nuns, the sisters decide to put on an all nun talent show in the Mount St. Helen’s School auditorium.
Producers Michelle Bogert and Maggie Swan’s production begins with sleight of hand. When entering the vintage Mountain View High School theatre, you may think you’re entering the production of Grease as expertly created by Set Designer Maggie Swan. The old Catholic high school gym/auditorium has authentic ambiance with a hand painted Grease poster above the three piece band complimented with wooden crucifix, scandalous Marilyn Monroe posters, and a nostalgic ice cream counter complete with bar stools.
One of the standouts of the show is Annie Ermlick who plays Sister Mary Amnesia, a nun who has come to the convent with no previous memories. Ermlick’s quizzical looks, double takes, and comedic hi jinx radiate genuine warmth that adds to the character’s appropriately quirky demeanor. During the quiz, all eyes were on Ermlick as she captivated the audience with her innocent dead-pan delivery of side splitting puns and double entendre. She’s positively delightful in “So You Want to Be a Nun,” a duet that Sister Mary Amnesia performs with Sister Mary Annette – an Avenue Q-type hand puppet. Ermlick easily slides back-and-forth between her nun’s soprano voice and her raucous puppet’s voice.
Holly Czuchna (The Reverend Mother Mary Regina) shows comic dexterity and brings down the house when she accidentally gets high after sampling a concoction found in a student’s locker. From jokes about how many Catholics are in the audience to seeing her flop on the floor after getting stuck, while calling out “Free Willy,” Czuchna commands the stage and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. “Turn Up the Spotlight’s” wistful solo showcases Czucha’s vocal and acting range.
Sister Mary Hubert (Rianke Krugel) is the Mistress of Novices and sings a great duet with Holly in the number “Just a Coupl’a Sisters,” that was very harmonious. Her quirky lead in the sanctified gospel-like ensemble number “Holier Than Thou” was funny.
Sister Mary Leo’s (Becca Harney) wide-eyed sweetness pirouetted her way into my heart with “Soup’s On (The Dying Nun Ballet).” From the moment Harney stepped into the spotlight, I was captivated by her voice. In “Benedicite (Morning at the Convent)”, Becca showed the very private, child-like side of a novice who had a pretty pink bedroom, a teddy bear and loved to sleep-in before entering the convent.
Lori Muhlstein plays the street-wise nun from Brooklyn, Sister Mary Leo, who wants to be a star. Lori provides vaudevillian-style gags and off-color comedy throughout the production. During “Playing Second Fiddle” and “I Just Want to Be a Star,” Lori’s comedic talent is showcased.
Other wonderful performances include Greg Garcia (Father Virgil), Valerie Hartnettas (Sister Mary Brendan), Holly McDade (Sister Mary Luke), Ellen Woodstock (Sister Julia, Child of God), Evan Kohnstam (School Janitor), and Hana Tawil (Sister Mary Felicity). The supporting cast were energetic and looked like they were having a good time. I especially enjoyed their spirited interaction with the audience during the rollicking dance number “Holier than Thou.”
The nuns’ habits designed by Costume Designers Sabrina Chandler and Claudia Temeris, are on one hand classic and accurate – and on the other – adaptively hilarious. It is not just the traditional black and white nuns habits complete with rosary but the addition of a cornette from the 60’s television program the Flying Nun, pastel pink ballet shoes, and multi-colored converse sneakers that added to the comedic atmosphere. Beth Atkins’ musical direction and Cathy Arnold’s choreography are a perfect mix of fast-paced, skillful step and camp. The “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” tap dance sequences were excellently choreographed and energetically performed.
Although this production of Nunsense was lots of fun, unfortunately, there were some lighting and sound problems at my performance which ere distracting.
Nunsense is a sweet, silly and spirited revue featuring five talented actresses wearing traditional habits that gently jabs at the Catholic faith while putting a smile on your face. Current and recovering parochial school alumni will eat up the sounds of the student-herding clickers and wooden ruler allusions. The performances and songs, and jokes are definitely ‘habit-forming.’
Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.