October 8, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, Nunsense

Apologies to Playhouse on Park are in order. Due to technical difficulties, this review is posting much later than expected. Luckily, there is still time for readers to see this production!

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through October 13, 2019
By Stuart W. Gamble

Dan Goggin’s silly, infectiously funny musical comedy “Nunsense” has found a welcoming home at Playhouse on Park. Goggin’s show first premiered in 1986, winning the Outer Critic’s Award, was filmed for TV’s A&E Network featuring actress Rue McClanahan, and has spawned four sequels. But it’s always good to go back to the beginning.

The cast of Nunsense
The Little Sisters of Hoboken, NJ are having a fundraiser to pay for the burials of four of their sisters, who are among the 52 of their fellow sisters who’ve perished from tainted vichyssoise. Heading the Order is the imposing Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Amanda Forker) who is ably assisted by Mistress of Novices, Sister Mary Hubert (Brandi Porter). In addition, there’s the nuns’ chauffer and physical education teacher Sister Robert Anne (Lily Dickinson), ever-forgetful Sister Mary Amnesia (Hillary Ekwall), and blithe Sister Mary Leo (Rachel Oremland). Despite some obstacles along the way, these habited ladies reach their goal.

First of all, the multi-talents of these five performers must be praised. Since “Nunsense” is a pastiche of musical numbers and comedy routines, its structure is a bit loose. While most of the numbers are tuneful, they are mostly unmemorable. The comedy also runs the gamut of outrageously hilarious to utterly lifeless. Examples of the former include the conclusion Act I when Reverend Mother inhales a bottle of “Rush” found in a student’s gym locker, which causes her to slur her speech, literally fall and not get up. The other is Sister Robert Anne’s shtick that includes stand-up jokes and imitations of “The Wizard of Oz’s” Miss Gulch (riding in on a bicycle and a witch’s hat), Cher, Judy Garland, and even Katherine Hepburn. The low points include Sister Amnesia’s sadly unfunny puppet routine with her lips moving to boot. Perhaps it would have worked better with only the puppet visible to the audience.

Musically, these five women can truly sing and dance angelically: Sister Mary Leo’s graceful ballet moves, the four Motherless Nuns snappy tap dancing (in colorful blue, green, black, and purple tap shoes from Costume Designer Lisa Ann Steier), and Sister Amnesia’s lovely soprano. Three numbers stand-out: Sister Hubert and Rev. Mother’s duet “Just a Coupl’a Sisters,” Sister Robert Anne’s show stopper “I Just Want To Be A Star,” and especially Sister Hubert’s grand finale, the Gospel-inspired, high-spirited “Holier Than Thou.” Congratulations to Director/Choreographer Darlene Zoller and Musical Director Melanie Guerin for bringing this wonderfully, feel-good show to local audiences.