Nuns having fun

by Erin Thursby
Nunsense is understandably popular. You’ve got to love a show that features a kick-line of nuns in the opening number. That’s just inherently funny. I’d seen it on the season lists before but I’d never seen the show. When I got the chance to review it at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre, I jumped at the opportunity to fill in this gap in my musical theatre education.
If you love musical theatre you’ll certainly love Nunsense, which is rife with references to musical theatre from Fiddler on the Roof to Grease. There are also lots of references to old movie stars.
These habit wearing nuns are dated because few nuns constantly wear the habit today. Part of the show’s charm is that it’s a little old-fashioned and it fearlessly recognizes that it is. Despite that, it could have used a few references to modern movie stars or musicals sprinkled in, just to keep it fresh.
I also suggest that they change the circa- 1980s VCR reference to Plasma TV from the QVC, or just to tie it in with something they use later in the show– a home projection system! Otherwise, you’ll find yourself asking the same strange question I did-can you really bury four nuns for the cost of a VCR?
Burying four nuns is the impetus for the show. They were just four of about 50 who were accidentally poisoned by Sister Julia, Child of God, the convent’s cook. They raised the money to bury all the poisoned nuns by selling greeting cards, but Mother Superior mistakenly spent the last of the profits on a VCR instead of burying the last four. So the surviving nuns are here to raise the rest of the money by regaling their congregation with Broadway-inspired tunes and irreverent humor. As different as these nuns are, they all crave the spotlight, so they’re all eager to perform.
Although most of the songs are humorous, there are a few surprisingly pretty harmonies scattered through it. Musically, these women work well together and they shine when they sing as a group.
Casey Sullivan plays the part of Sister Leo with a sweetness that just makes you want to hug her. Sister Leo’s dearest ambition is to be the first nun ballerina. The show-stealer of the group was Leslie Holmes, who played the wide-eyed Sister Mary Amnesia. Sister Mary Hubert, played by Trish Strain, is the Mistress of the Novices. I think it’s one of the most difficult parts in the play, since it’s meant to be counter-balance to all the other parts, and Strain handles it with aplomb. She and Gretta Russe, who plays Sister Mary Regina (the Mother Superior) have a rivalry equally mixed with love. Russe’s Mother Superior tries her best to be in charge, but she seems to know that she’s just as confused about the right direction to go in as the rest of the nuns. Still, as leader she’s got to at least pretend to know what she’s doing, if only for the sake of the other nuns, who depend on her. She runs what I would describe as an absentminded and benevolent dictatorship. Hardest for the Mother Superior to keep in line is the wise-cracking and street-wise Sister Mary Robert Anne, played by Susan Roche, who fights for her share of the spotlight throughout the show. Roche, like the rest of the cast, has a terrific time on stage. Nuns having fun is catching. The more fun they have, the more fun the audience has.
Audience participation is a big part of the show. You’ll find yourself clapping along and having grand time. It’s most definitely a musical comedy for all ages. Teens that won’t get every reference to theatre and the movies will still enjoy it because the actors make sure you have a fun time even if you don’t have those moments of nostalgia. The adult humor is veiled enough that kids can hear it, and the jokes will have you laughing. From sight gags to jokes so bad they’re good, these nuns keep you entertained.