Open: 07/01/10- Close: 07/16/10
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Heather Violanti
DaleHellerPR ©2020 Jeanne Tinker (Sister Amnesia), with Sister Mary Annette, Bambi Jones (Sister Hubert) and Bonnie Lee (Reverend Mother)
Cherry Lane Theatre goes back in the habit for the 25th Anniversary revival of Nunsense, helmed by its creator and original director, Dan Goggin. The musical made its Off-Broadway debut at Cherry Lane back in 1985.
Since then, Nunsense has evolved from goofy Off-Broadway hit to bona fide international brand. In addition to productions across the globe, it’s spawned eight sequels, a line of nun-themed souvenirs, and four television specials. There’s even a museum devoted exclusively to the show’s history. Nunsense has never really gone out of style…but as this revival shows, it’s as earthbound in moments as it is divine
The premise of Nunsense is simple: five nuns put on a show to save the convent. The Little Sisters of Hoboken sing and dance their hearts out in the school gym, on the set of the eighth-grade production of Grease (designed here with kitschy aplomb by Barry Axtell). Each sister gets her own showstopper, her moment to shine in Sister Mary Myopia’s wayward spotlight. It’s pure camp of the highest order, and great fun. (Who can resist singing, tap-dancing nuns?) But it shows its age painfully in places. When the sisters sing of the various tribes they nursed to health in their former leper colony, the crude jokes about Hottentots and Pygmies no longer amuse. (The audience responded with uncomfortable silence). The character of Sister Mary Hubert, the sassy black Gospel-singing second to Reverend Mother, veers dangerously close to being a token, although actress Bambi Jones counters this by spitting her jokes out with a detached irony. If writer/director Goggin could tweak minor details to keep Nunsense current—plays, movies, and musicals are referenced that didn’t exist in 1985—why not re-examine these disconcerting elements?
Goggin’s production clips along amiably, but the divine spark of inspiration is missing. Each sister gets her laughs, each song is beautifully song, each showstopper hits its mark, but there’s a strange undercurrent of lassitude, as if, after 25 years, the nuns are ready to pack up their habits. Numbers that should raise the roof—such as the rousing Gospel finale “Holier than Thou” or the silly “Tackle Temptation With A Time Step”—lift off but miss the rafters.
Nevertheless, there are some fine moments. Stephanie Wahl, a former Rockette, brings formidable dance skills to Sister Leo’s solo “Benedicite,” while Jeanne M. Tinker finds surprising poignancy to Sister Mary Amnesia’s “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville.” Maria Montana has great fun with streetwise Sister Mary Robert’s impressions (including a stairwell-descending Norma Desmond in Nunset Boulevard). As Reverend Mother and Sister Hubert, Bonnie Lee and Bambi Jones drolly underplay their duet, “Just A Coupl’a Sisters.”
WIth such flashes of spirit, devoted fans will find the pilgrimage to Cherry Lane worthwhile, but others may find this Nunsense less than heaven-sent.
Cherry Lane Theatre : 38 Commerce St.