BWW Review: NUNSENSE Irreverently entertains at The City Theatre in Austin, TX
The somewhat obscure 1985 musical NUNSENSE, is now playing at The City Theatre on the east side of Austin. Holding the title of the second longest-running Off-Broadway show in history, NUNSENSE will delight all audiences, but has the best entertainment value for the catholic-lite audience. Taking place in Mount Saint Helen's School auditorium in New Jersey, the Little Sisters of Hoboken were once a missionary order that ran a leper colony on an island south of France. After their mission went sour, they travel back to their convent in Hoboken, looking for a fresh start. The children of God then discover Sister Julia has accidentally killed the other fifty-two residents with a bad batch of the french soup vichyssoise. The nuns then raise enough money to bury all the late sisters through selling, what would be assumed, religiously quipped greeting cards. However, Mother Superior used part of their earnings to purchase a big screen television. Leaving her compatriots with four of the fifty-two sisters frosting in their freezer, until they can find the money to properly bury them. This premise causes the ladies to host a variety show in Mount Saint Helen's School auditorium to raise the money to put their frozen friends to rest. The five remaining collection of sisters have individual character traits as defining as the saints of the Bible. Loaded with audience participation, tap numbers and nuns with an odd perspective of their religious values, NUNSENSE is an entertaining vaudevillian-style musical with songs large and small.
With an ensemble cast showcasing their individual talents, NUNSENSE gives these ladies a chance to shine and strut their stuff. Sister Mary Amnesia (played by Jennifer Bateman) boasted her comic timing excellently on stage. With her character-defining trait of literally not knowing who she is, Bateman takes the cake for being the funniest lady on stage. Her constant search and delivery, awarded the audience with a sister to root for. Sister Mary Leo (played by Stefanie Salyers) performed beautiful ballet for on-lookers to admire, while wondering if being a nun is truly her calling. Bateman and Salyers revealed their mark on the show as multidimensional and given the premise, quite humorous.
The 'director' of these ladies, Sister Mary Regina/Mother Superior (played by B.J. Ortwein), is the cause of most of the sisters woes. Ortwein maintains excellent presence on stage through her song and story telling. While her dancing was haphazard, it lends to the narrative of the show being rather slapdash. Ortwein's performance of "Turn Up the Spotlight" relaying her adventures as a circus performer, opens the audience's eyes to the ladies' past and their special place as 'children of God'. Sister Robert Anne (played by Lariena Armstrong) the defiant Brooklynite, through her shaky accent, entertains the audience with her drive to the stage. While her overall vocal performance sounded disorganized through out the performance, her shining moment in "I Just Want to Be a Star" was executed well, as she invited the audience into her inner most desires. Rounding out the large personalities is Sister Mary Hubert (played by Samantha Watson) - Watson brings down the house with her performance in "Holier Than Thou". Her energy and 'spirit' (pun intended) ends the show on a high unprecedented by the other performances.
With a premise this fantastical, communicating the absurdity to audiences proves to be difficult for The City Theatre. The holes within this adventure cause the audience to feel lost while enjoying the singing and dancing. With the exposition written as being delivered through the performers' singing, a large portion of the story is lost with the quick delivery and lacks the execution to deliver a fully developed show. With all the nuns' individualism, their unravelling stories were compelling and the audience truly rooted for them to gain the money and 'fame' they individually desired. Overall, this performance of the historic musical, The City Theatre's NUNSENSE, is very entertaining for audiences with it's religious stellar numbers and well-rounded performers. Recommended for on-lookers with a comical approach to religious themes, NUNSENSE delivers the quick wit and gusto demanded for such a performance.