Monday, July 23, 2012


Sheila-current3By Sheila Abrams

It was just a little mishap in the kitchen of the Little Sisters of Hoboken. Sister Julia, Child of God, made the tiniest slip-up in her vichyssoise recipe, and 52 sisters bit the dust. The need to bury them fast (four are being stored in the freezer) has caused a financial crisis. Thus, the remaining five sisters have joined to put on a show and raise some money. The result: Nunsense.

The extremely silly musical based on that premise, which holds the record as the second longest-running Off-Broadway show (after The Fantasticks), opened last weekend at the Morris Museum’s Bickford Theatre, where it will continue through Aug. 12.

For a hint about the humor, note the name of the cooking nun in the first paragraph. There isn’t much subtle or sophisticated in Nunsense, but it really is a lot of fun.

Based on observation of the audience, we feel secure in saying that those who are Roman Catholic and grew up being taught by nuns seem to get more of the jokes and enjoy the show more. But even those of us who don’t fit that profile can appreciate the musical numbers by Dan Goggin and the script that puts these holy women into unexpected situations.

The five professional actresses—three are Actors Equity members—are deftly cast to take advantage of their talents. Leading the group is Gwendolyn F. Jones as the Reverend Mother Mary Regina. Possessed of a powerful voice, both singing and speaking, and a wonderful knack for broad physical comedy, Jones brings the house down more than once.

Though it would be easy for Jones to dominate the stage, the others hold their own and each personality has her chance to shine. Kristen Michelle, with the marvelously descriptive name, Sister Mary Amnesia, is a wonder of innocent confusion. And the youngest of the group, a novice, Sister Mary Leo, played by Amanda Yachechak, who wants to be a ballerina, successfully pulls off a dance called “The Dying Nun” with a tutu over her voluminous habit.

The habit is also put to good use in a very funny routine by Katie Mott as Sister Robert Anne. Longing to be a star, she uses her veil in a variety of creative ways in a series of impressions, probably not sanctioned by the Vatican. The voice of reason in all this mayhem is Sister Mary Hubert, played by Geraldine Leer. Although her role offers the least opportunity for broad comedy, she nonetheless has the chance to show her chops as a hoofer and she sings beautifully.

Supporting the sisters is an on-stage pianist Wayne Mallette. Laurie Piro did the choreography and Eric Hafen, the Bickford’s Artistic Director, directed the piece.

As we heard someone remark exiting the theater, “It ain’t Sondheim.” No, it isn’t, and the humor is often infantile. But there’s a reason it had such a long New York run and is so popular with community theaters. It’s fun, and in the middle of the summer, that’s a pretty good recommendation.