by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Alhambra Theatre opened 2012 with Dan Goggin’s wacky and very popular musical Nunsense, running through Feb 5th. The Alhambra is at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach. Call 641-1212 or reservations. For a seating chart and more information go to www.alhambrajax.com.
Nunsense is one of the most popular musicals in history, and there are scores of Nunsense devotees that have seen it several times, including the Dual Critics. It never fails to please and make us laugh, and it seems that each performance we see is good. That is especially true of the Alhambra’s current version directed and produced by Tod Booth, who invigorated this version with some of his unique touches.
In case you’ve forgotten, or are a Nunsense novice, the slim plot goes something like this. The Little Sisters of Hoboken, New Jersey are in dire straits. The chief cook, Sister Julia Child of God, cooked up some bad potato soup that sent 52 of the sisters to an untimely death. The cash-strapped convent buried 48 of them, but then the Mother Superior, due to a budget miscalculation, spent all the rest of the money on a new Blue Ray DVD player. Now, the four nuns who remain unburied are being kept in the church freezer. The survivors decide to hold a fund-raising talent show at the Mt. St. Helen’s School auditorium. The remaining hour and forty minutes are devoted to this zany show.
Jacksonville native Leanza Cornett as Sister Mary Amnesia is given top billing, because this is a homecoming for this talented lady who started her show business career at the Alhambra at the age of fifteen. She went on to become Miss Florida in 1992 and Miss American in 1993. She then moved on to host several national television shows and now makes her home in California with her husband Mark and two children. Several years ago, Leanza and her husband Mark starred in the excellent Alhambra production of Barefoot in the Park. Ms. Cornett’s voice is better than ever, as she proved while singing “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville.” She also does a hilarious routine with her hand puppet, Sister Mary Annette.
Lisa Valdini puts boundless energy into all her roles, and Alhambra audiences love every minute. As the goofy Mother Superior she has us laughing in the aisles on several occasions but especially with a brief on-stage encounter with drugs.
Rachel Anton, as streetwise Sister Robert Anne, was previously in the recent Christmas Carole. Ms. Anton can really belt out a song.
Kathryn Nash is making her Alhambra debut as Sister Mary Leo, the nun who wants to become a ballerina. Ms.Nash has been performing in various theatres in Orlando the past several years. Not only can she dance, (in ballet shoes no less) but she sings wonderfully as well.
Shinnerrie Jackson is Sister Mary Hubert. She makes Jacksonville her home, but this is her first time on stage at the Alhambra. She brings an impressive resume that includes not only musicals but very serious roles as well. Her rendition of the gospel style song, “Holier Than Thou” was a show stopper.
Now for Tod’s Touches. Instead of using taped music or a band to provide the accompaniment for the singing nuns, Mr. Booth has added an additional nun on an upright piano at the side of the stage. This is Sister Mary Upright, actually Musical Director Michael Ursua, an accomplished pianist, in drag; well, as in drag as you can be dressed as a nun. Using a piano was a brilliant idea and so fitting for a financially pressed bunch of nuns.
Two other additions to the cast were Bethany Howard as Sister Mary Myopia who ran a follow spot. We hope she was not paid by the word because she said absolutely nothing. Stage Manger Henry Brewster made a brief appearance as Brother Henry at the opening of the show, contributing some timely ad-libs while Sister Mary Leo and a guest from the audience shot hoops on stage. This was a very different opening to this show and one we have never seen before.
Shain Stroff provided the creative and energetic choreography. We loved the tap dancing!!
Dave Dionne’s uncluttered gymnasium set had white walls and a few simple set pieces. The Costume Crew provided the traditional black and white habits for the nuns with some colorful accessories added on occasion.
We attended the New Year’s Eve performance as it had been a number of years since we had attended this special event. Craig Smith and the Alhambra Staff certainly made it memorable, staring with champagne and appetizers served in the lobby and bar area. Plenty of colorful hats, horns and accessories to celebrate the New Year were also provided. Some of the most unique and hot items were hats made from metallic grocery bags and ribbons that make every one look like a part of royalty. The plated special meal for New Year’s Eve consisted of surf and turf that was delicious, as were the unique salads and desserts. After the sister’s accomplished their mission, a band took the stage and played very danceable music. And after the festive midnight hoopla, an excellent and tasty breakfast buffet was served.
So start off the New Year with a lot of laughs. While Nunsense doesn’t pretend to be anything than entertainment, it certainly has a track record to be envied, with 3,672 performances on Broadway and over 8,000 productions worldwide grossing $500 million dollars for the franchise!! Heck of a show, don’t miss it.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM