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June 22, 2010 > Theatre: Stage 1 Theatre's Nunsense is habit-forming

Theatre: Stage 1 Theatre's Nunsense is habit-forming

Submitted By Jay Coleman

The Little Sisters of Hoboken are raising spirits - not all of them holy - in Stage 1 Theatre's production of "Nunsense," playing at Newark Memorial High School Theatre, June 25-27.

As the story opens, there's sad news at the convent: The cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 sisters with tainted vichyssoise soup. Reverend Mother Regina had a vision to start a greeting card company to pay for the burials. The company was wildly successful, although the Mother Superior - not blessed with great math skills - bought a big screen TV for the convent, not realizing that they didn't have enough money to bury four of the departed sisters. The five surviving nuns, who were away playing bingo with the Maryknolls when the deadly vichyssoise was served, decide to put on a variety show in the Mount Saint Helen's School Auditorium to raise money to bury the four deceased sisters, who are on ice in the deep freeze.

With that premise, "Nunsense" takes off on a fun romp of singing, dancing, comedy and a bit of naughty fun under Jim Burris' direction of the show, for which Dan Goggin wrote the original music and lyrics for its 1985 off-Broadway debut. It's an ideal musical comedy where each of the five actors has her chance to shine.

Stage 1 veteran Belinda Maloney as Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior, is heavenly as the head of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, particularly when she joins with Sister Mary Hubert (Angela FH Pappachan) in a fun duet, Just a Coupl' a Sisters. Maloney virtually brings down the house near the end of the first act when Reverend Mother Regina innocently inhales rush (amyl nitrite) and gets higher and giddier in the ensuing minutes. You'll never think of "Free Willy" the same after seeing this scene.

Pappachan, in her first Stage 1 Theatre role as Sister Mary Hubert, performs like a seasoned pro and booms out her songs in a powerful voice. She also helps produce some glorious harmonies in scenes featuring four or all five leading ladies.

Erin Reis is angelic as Sister Mary Leo, the novice nun whose goal is to be the world's first ballerina nun. A gifted triple threat (dancing, singing, acting), Reis brings a definite energy to the role and her return to State 1, where she previously starred in many roles, including Luisa in "The Fantastics" and Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

Jacqueline Arroyo shows excellent comedic timing as Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. Reprising the role that she played 15 years ago, Arroyo garners big laughs with her puppet, Sister Mary Annette (say it real fast), and excels in singing "I Could Have Gone to Nashville."

Jami Wallace (Sister Robert Anne, the streetwise nun from Brooklyn) stepped in to replace an ailing cast member, and had to learn the rapid-fire lyrics and multiple dance numbers in short order. Another Stage 1 veteran, she gets the second act off to a great start with her delivery on "The Veil."

A real treat throughout the show is the music from the Mount Saint Helen's Band of Delphean Quan (pianist), Blair Barrett (reeds) and Bryan Friedman (percussion). The habit-wearing trio is onstage throughout both acts and has some cleaver interactions with the five sisters.

Choreographer Lisa Otterstetter has injected "Nunsense" with several creative dance routines, including a challenging tap number, "Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step" to end Act 1.

This is an audience-participation show at times, including a live quiz, where Sister Mary Amnesia works the Newark Memorial High School Theatre, asking questions related to the show and rewarding valuable prizes (Walking with Jesus Gummi Bears and Holy Bubbles, for example). You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy the repartee, but Catholics will appreciate the religious references on a deeper level. Just for fun - and good, Catholic tradition - there's even a game of bingo at intermission, where audience members can win a cash prize.

In a move perhaps to prove we're all human, the first act was marred with audio problems the night of this review. It truly was unfortunate (and should require a few Hail Mary's) because the lyrics and one-liners come fast. Fortunately, thank God, the sound was clear for the second act.

There are a few dated references that younger audience members won't get - including a reference to '60s country singer Brenda Lee, and "Nunsmoke," a takeoff on the classic TV western, "Gunsmoke" - but the 25-year-old musical holds up well overall.

Director Burris and producers Denise Crawford and Karen Halverson provide a fun theatrical experience for first-timers and long-time fans who have seen the show multiple times. As the Little Sisters of Hoboken remind us, Nunsense is habit-forming.

Friday, Saturday, June 25, 26
8 p.m.
Sunday, 27
2:30 p.m.
Newark Memorial High School theatre
39375 Cedar Blvd., Newark
(510) 791-0287

Students 17/under: $12
Adults: $22

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