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Written and Directed by Dan Goggin
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St., NYC
Opened June 13, 2010; closes July 18, 2010.
Reviewed June 18, 2010 by Larry Litt
Twenty years have passed since I last saw Dan Goggin's musical comedy homage to Catholic sisterhood "Nunsense." Since 1985 "Nunsense" has wildly excited audiences with songs and jokes about the secret inner lives and manipulations of an order of habit wearing nuns. They're on a money raising mission from God to avoid Health Department closure of their convent. The most talented sisters are producing a show to raise this money. Sound familiar?
Watching and listening to the nuns this time I made the Catholic money connection. Why is this show so current though it features nuns singing and dancing in medieval habits? One reason perhaps is it's the nuns' side of the "Blues Brothers" movie. Jake and Elwood must raise money for the beloved home, a nun run orphanage where they grew up in. Similarly, "Nunsense's' Reverend Mother and her talented ladies must get money to bury recently deceased, now frozen, members of their order.
Nunsense's Reverend Mother of the Mt. St. Helens Society is a blood relative of the Blues Brothers' Sister Mary Stigmata, better known as "The Penguin." Bonnie Lee plays the Reverend Mother with knowing toughness, show biz smarts, sarcastic constructive criticism, and deep compassion for her fellow sisters and their very human foibles. Her song "Turn Up The Spotlight" shows us many sides of a nun's life, both secular and sacred. It's a song whose theme of dual callings rings true for many artistic people.
Hyperactive, over the top silliness along with total identity and memory loss doesn't inhibit Sister Mary Amnesia, played by ever vibrating Jeanne M. Tinker. She takes us on a weird, funny musical journey trying to regain her mind. She too tells us of her personal show biz tragedy in her song "I Could've Gone to Nashville." She's clearly better off pleasing audiences with her mixed up life in "Nunsense."
Sly, sophisticated Bambi Jones as Sister Mary Hubert is a backstage Eve Harrington waiting to replace Reverend Mother Margo Channing. Her goal of becoming a Reverend Mother is ambitious especially in a world where ambition is not tolerated and humility exalted. Her duet with Reverend Mother is an homage to friendship and cooperation with a touch of career coveting. Can Hubert be trusted to carry the show? Of course and in high belting style.
Problems abound for a sister given the role of super star understudy. Sister Robert Paul is singularly minded, focused on gaining a featured turn in The Sister's musical fundraiser. Brilliant character actress Maria Montana is determined by any and all means possible to be on stage with her homespun song. Her first turn, "Playing Second Fiddle" is both heart wrenching and absolutely positive about the hidden lives of understudies. All except Carol Channing of course. In the second act she energetically declares her musical gold search in "I Just Want to Be a Star," which is the raison d'etre for this show's existence.
Nun-on-her-toes dancer and singer Stephanie Wahl plays the statuesque ingénue sister Mary Leo, seemingly caught temporarily in the Order. God only knows what she's doing in there as she herself sings about dancing her way to devotion and stardom in "Benedicte' while she shows off her extreme talent. What the hell is she doing there? Easy, she's in a musical about show business, as are the other musical comedy stars, telling their stories dressed in habits.
"Nunsense" is still a musical star's vehicle, no one can watch this show without a smile, but more likely you'll deserve a whack on the hand with a sister's disciplining ruler for laughing out loud at "Nunsense."
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