NUNSENSE theatre review

The streets surrounding San Marco Square were alive with the sound of music and laughter from 8 to 10 pm last Friday night as Theatre Jacksonville opened Dan Goggin’s 1985 classic Nunsence as its final show of the 2009-2010 season. Some might scoff at calling this musical about a quintet of nuns singing merry cabaret songs and telling vaudeville jokes as classic, but any show that runs ten years on Broadway for 3,672 performances and has been translated into 26 languages, with over 6000 worldwide productions has certainly earned its place in the Musical Theatre Hall of Fame.
The male half of dual critics has seen this show so many times that he has passed up reviewing some of them, using illness caused by tainted Vichyssoise as an excuse. The female side of dual critics prevailed in this case, pointing out that we hadn’t seen a production for a while, and this version would likely be a lively one.
A simple plot refresher would go like this: Five nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken put on a variety show to raise money to bury sisters who died from accidental food poisoning after eating tainted Vichyssoise prepared by convent chef Sister Julia, Child of God. While the premise is certainly outrageous, Dan Goggin (a Catholic), wrote the music, lyrics and all the jokes about nuns and convents with love behind them and all in fun.
In the hands of an outstanding cast, director and production staff, this show sparkles like a brand new diamond, even with twenty-five-year old jokes and songs. Director Shirley Sacks has cast five terrific vocalists/ comedians who are strong and committed to excellence in singing and unabashed goofiness in acting.
If you have attended any local theatre productions in recent years, then you will recognize three of the talented ladies.
Carole Banks (Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior) has appeared at Theatre Jacksonville, The Alhambra, and the Jacksonville Symphony over the years. A member of Bella Voice Cabaret, she has even sung the National Anthem at an NFL Jaguars game.
Amy Allen Farmer (Sister Mary Amnesia) appears to spend her evenings going to rehearsals for plays in productions at ABET, Limelight Theatre, Theatre Jacksonville, Players by the Sea, JCA, Pendulum Productions and the Key West Symphony. Although Amy loves musicals, she is equally at home in dramatic roles.
Jessica Palombo (Sister Mary Leo) is the youngest of the nuns. The Dual Critics are proud to say that we believe we have seen every one of her performances since her debut at TJ in A Shayna Maidel.She can frequently be seen in plays with the love of her life Joe Walz, who is currently in Death of a Salesman at Limelight in St. Augustine. Musical or drama, Jessica can do it all.
MaryBeth Antoinette (Sister Robert Anne) is performing in her first musical in Jacksonville. She debuted at TJ as Laura Keene in Our Leading Lady. She recently moved to this city (lucky us), after many performances in theatres in the Sarasota area, where she garnered Best Actress awards both for musicals and drama. You are going to see a lot of this versatile and talented lady.
Cherilyn Walker (Sister Mary Hubert) is a delightful new addition to the local theatre scene, and this is her debut. Currently the Drama Director at Fleming Island High School down Orange Park way, she brings a wealth of professional experience in drama and musicals. She has performed in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego. Welcome to Jacksonville, we love you already.
There are sixteen songs and except for a couple that are serious, they are mostly unsophisticated but clever and very, very funny. A puppetry scene by one of the nuns is hilarious. The nuns even do a bit of fancy dancing thanks to Choreographer Laura Patey Hammock (You will love their tap dancing!!)
The set, by Jeff and Kelly Wagoner, is designed as a high school auditorium stage. The sisters don’t have a performance space of their own and are holding their fundraiser at the Mount Saint Helen’s school. The students are currently mounting a production of their own, which explains the logo for Grease, along with furnishings of a diner counter, jukebox, and automobile. Lighting sweeps are used to pull the audience into the setting.
Nunsence is Tracy Olin’s 24th costuming effort and probably one of the easiest challenges she has had in costuming. The cast wears traditional black and white garb for most of the time, along with occasional colorful accessories.
The no-nonsense Nunsence band is led by Musical Director Samuel Clein on piano. Clein becomes sort of a sixth character known as Brother Sam by the nuns, who often ad-lib remarks to him as he conducts. The musicians include Brooke Dansberger (woodwind), Tommy Dobbs (percussion), and Bonita Sonsini Wyke (piano). The performance by the band was excellent, never overpowering the vocalists and also right on the money with the music cues.
This is a fine ensemble cast, and to single out each individual excellence would merely re-state the cast list. One of the highlights of the evening is actually about fifteen minutes before the show when three of the nuns come out into audience to banter with audience members and to sell raffle tickets for a bottle of (real) donated bubbly.
Theatre Jacksonville’s 2009-2010 season was selected with a theme to bring humor to the stage and they have certainly saved the funniest for last. Even if you have seen “Nunsence” before, you don’t want to miss this production, with such outstanding voices and comic performances. This fast-paced show will leave you laughing loud and long.
Performances continue until June 26th at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco Blvd. Call 396-4426 for reservations.