Jeanne M. Tinker in the Cherry Lane Theatre revival of Nunsense. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: Light-hearted and infectious, Nunsense is as "habit-forming" as it was a quarter-century ago.
After becoming a world-wide megahit and spawning six sequels, the return of the musical Nunsense to the Cherry Lane Theater with its creator, Dan Goggin, at the helm was never likely to be a miss. Whether you're experiencing the show for the first time (like me) or you've been a fan for years, Nunsense proves to be an uproarious romp that shows us "the humor of the nun" just as the opening number, "Nunsense is Habit-Forming," promises.
Barry Axtell's stage, a bright, chaotic mishmash of pop culture touchstones and religious iconography, provides the perfect backdrop for the spectacle to come. The Little Sisters of Hoboken have recently lost 52 nuns to a bad soup made by Sister Julia, Child of God. After burying 48 of the deceased, Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Bonnie Lee) spent the remaining funds on a plasma screen TV and now she and four sisters have decided to host a show at Mount Saint Helen's School to raise money to bury the last four nuns, whose bodies currently reside in the kitchen freezer. As you can guess, these are not your grandmother's singing nuns.
Leo P. Carusone's musical direction is impeccable and the dynamic quintet harmonizes perfectly. Audience participation is welcome and sometimes demanded, with one sister popping a quiz after a musical number and handing out St. Christopher the Motorist's Prayer cards to the winners. The cast is extraordinarily multi-talented; Sister Mary Leo (Stephanie Wahl), who longs to be a famous nun ballerina, executes perfect pirouettes in point shoes and full habit, Sister Mary Hubert (Bambi Jones), the Mistress of Novices with aspirations to a higher position, leads a tap dance, and Sister Mary Amnesia (Jeanne M. Tinker), who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head, does a musical number with a puppet. Tinker has the choice role here and she plays every single endearing, vacant look and dim-witted statement for big laughs. However, the show affords each nun a chance to shine with Sister Robert Anne (Maria Montana), a street-wise former delinquent from Brooklyn, delivering the only "serious" song of the show with "Growing up Catholic."
One or two of the numbers feel superfluous, but for the most part, they are absolutely entertaining and steer the ambling plot forward. There is nothing here to offend practicing Catholics and many in-jokes to delight lapsed ones. Goggin, having been taught by nuns as a boy, clearly has a great respect for his characters and their beliefs. All five nuns have secret ambitions towards stardom but ultimately find they are glad they became nuns. We are too.
(Nunsense plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, though July 18, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $45 through $50 and can be purchased by calling 212.239.6200 or online at www.cherrylanetheatre.org.)