BWW Review: NUNSENSE at Playhouse On Park
There's a quote from Bennet Cerf that says, "The person who can bring the spirit of laughter into a room is indeed blessed." I am not sure I could find a better way of describing the refreshingly funny, exciting, and entertaining opening show of Playhouse on Park's 11th season, NUNSENSE. The classic musical is a madcap romp with a simple, yet hilarious premise that still finds a way to keep audiences gasping for breath almost 35 years after its premiere off-Broadway. And, by selecting this feel-good musical as its opening show, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford has set the bar high for what looks to be a thrilling season.
If you have never taken the comedic NUNSENSE journey with the Little Sisters of Hoboken, let me give you a quick overview (though, unlike in the show, there will not be a quiz following!). The show finds five of the Little Sisters putting on a fundraiser due to a recent tragedy that has rocked their small, New Jersey convent. Sister Julia, Child of God, their chef made some tainted vichyssoise soup which killed 52 of the nuns. The surviving sisters raised enough to bury 48 of them but ran out of money due to some unexpected spending by the Rev. Mother. So, what else is one to do except stage a variety show to raise the remaining funds so they can "Clean Out the Freezer" and bury these unfortunate sisters. Not everything goes to plan (which provides some of the funniest moments of the night) but each of the sisters has a chance to shine in their own way during the two-hour performance. And, boy, do they shine!
Dan Goggin's book, lyrics and music holds up well for a show that has not only had a 35-year history but has also spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs. Some of the references feel a bit dated, but Goggin has done a good job updating the script in places to keep it feeling timeless. The music is catchy and tuneful, and the lyrics are creative and fun.
As for the performances, the five women embodying this holy sisterhood are, to the person, fantastic. They each bring an exciting interpretation to their roles, and are talented and downright hilarious. As Reverend Mother, Amanda Forker, who is a frequent sight on the Playhouse stage (and who I loved in [TITLE OF SHOW], is absolutely in her element. Her stern, yet loveable, Rev. Mother is the perfect "mother hen" for the group. Ms. Forker's comic timing is spot on and her delivery of the Rev. Mother's songs and scenes is fantastic. As the Mistress of the Novices, Sister Mary Hubert, Brandi Porter is absolutely phenomenal. She plays quite well off of Ms. Forker's sometimes overbearing Rev. Mother, and brings the roof down in her 11th hour number "Holier Than Thou" - showing off an amazing voice. As Sister Robert Anne, Lily Dickinson is the perfect embodiment of the streetwise sister who, though she knows how to push Rev. Mother's buttons, has a heart of gold. Ms. Dickinson also has a great voice and shows it off in the rousing "I Just Want to Be a Star." Hillary Ekwall is a perfect fit as the dimwitted, yet loveable Sr. Mary Amnesia (who doesn't remember her real name), and gets many of the laughs of the night. Finally, as the novice, Sister Mary Leo, Rachel Oremland demonstrates strong dancing skills as the ballerina of the group. Together these five form a formidable sisterhood with tight harmonies, skilled moves, and great comic timing.
From a creative perspective, director and choreographer, Darlene Zoller has done a masterful job bringing this story to life on the stage. Her choreography is fun and fresh (who doesn't love a tap-dancing nun!) and her direction of the cast well-planned, using the entire theater to maximum effect. Melanie Guerin does a great job as musical director, and even has a few lines in the show. She leads a nimble and talented band who are appropriately decked out as catholic school students and sisters/priests. Johann Fitzpatrick's scenic design is fun (great choice staging the show on the set of Playhouse's annual "Mama D's Outrageous Romp" vs. Grease as is typically done), and Lisa Ann Steier's costumes were great, especially when accessorizing the "Nun's couture".
All in all, Playhouse on Park's NUNSENSE is, to borrow from early advertisements of the show, a "funny, nunny musical". It is so funny, in fact, I found my face hurting by the end of the evening (literally!). The cast is phenomenal and the performances amazing, making for a great night at the theatre. So,don't wait for its second coming, make sure you catch this one before it is too late!
NUNSENSE runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through October 13th. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Photo credit: Rich Wagner