News Column

Audacious tunes, characters carry "Nunsense"

October 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 05--Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said "hearing nuns' confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn."

"Nunsense" is no confession. It is, more entertainingly, a wacky musical revue. It would be even more accurate to brand it as a brazen show-off of everything from country music to impressions (Princess Leia, Katharine Hepburn, Pocahontas, Cher), a little of en pointe ballet, and, most of all, a parade of upbeat, sock-it-to-'em numbers.

All this and nuns too? It is, indeed, nunsense.

The cast of five extroverted actresses are selling and selling hard. When they sock it to you, you are markedly socked.

Of course the corn is as high as an elephant's eye (at least) and some of the jokes are as much groaners as howlers, but this long-tested and often-performed import from off-Broadway is what we call a "crowd pleaser."

The "plot," as sparse as it is, concerns a variety show put on by the Little Sisters of Hoboken to raise money to bury four fellow sisters who are being kept in the convent's deep freeze after they were poisoned by soup made by an unwitting chef-nun. They ran out of money before they could bury them. (One of the songs is "We've Got to Clean Out the Freezer.")

The set, imported from Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, is the school auditorium where a production of "Grease" was recently presented, so there are cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean left over -- as well as a neon logo.

"Nunsense" is one of those shows you probably think you've seen more often than you have. It has seemingly been around forever -- actually, just since 1985. Frequently performed on the local scene a few decades ago, it had a long absence until this edition. It has spawned no less than six sequels and three spinoffs.

The promise that this VMT production was to be a rewritten "update" comes to naught -- there are a few new references, not rewrites.

But "Nunsense" lives on mainly because of its audacious, if routine, tunes and characters.

C.J. Hill (the lone Equity performer) is Mother Superior Mary Regina, a former circus performer who cannot resist the spotlight. Nesha Ward has the finale rouser as Sister Mary Hubert, her competitive second-in-command.

Sister Robert Anne (Janet McWilliams) is a streetwise nun from Brooklyn. (Mother Superior thinks streetwise means "knowing her way around town.")

Hilariously, Amanda Yachechak gets on her toes as Sister Mary Leo, the novice who is determined to be the world's first ballerina nun. (She is not allowed to wear a tutu.)

Amanda Leigh Pickard works overtime with her puppet as the appropriately vacant Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.

Director Michael Licata has not encouraged shyness among his quintet, and there is not a weak voice in the corps.

The ensemble-patter numbers are often indiscernible but they are, at least, fast-paced.

One might wonder, though, how often the Mother Superior can interrupt the numbers with mock shock-discipline. It is a bit repetitive.

The episodic quality necessitates that the songs and comedy scenes don't so much flow as interrupt each other.

If you want newness, VMT will deliver, later in the season, the first local production of the "Little Women" Broadway musical.

In the meantime, it is gambling on the possibility that there is truth in the song title: "Nunsense is Habit-Forming."

Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347, mal.vincent@pilotonline.com

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if you go

What "Nunsense," presented by Virginia Musical Theater

When 2 and 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, 201 Market St., Virginia Beach

Cost $30-$65

More info 385-2787, www.broadwayatthecenter.com

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(c)2013 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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