BWW Review: NUNSENSATIONS at Desert Theatreworks
Nunsense, with book music and lyrics by Dan Goggin, has become quite a cottage industry since its debut off-Broadway in 1985. The original production ran for 3,672 performances, making it the second-longest-running off-Broadway show in history (behind Fantasticks). Since that successful opening, the playwright has concocted six sequels and three spinoffs. A couple of years ago, Desert Theatreworks presented Nunsense: The Mega Musical, one of the spinoffs, which was basically the original five-nun musical expanded to a cast of 17, with a couple of new songs added. They are currently presenting Nunsensations, the fifth of the six sequels.
Viewing the show is much like catching a new episode of one of your favorite TV shows; the five nuns are the same characters as in the original production, with the same personalities and squabbles, but facing a new set of situations. It seems that one of their parishioners has promised them a $10,000 donation to one of their projects if they will play a week at a Las Vegas casino. They agree, but then discover that The Pump Room Lounge is certainly a very long distance from the glittering Las Vegas Strip. Still, they use the situation to don feathered headdresses and boas, play a game of chance with the audience, tell a few jokes, and sing and dance to some 16 new songs. As with the original, the show will have more resonance for those raised as Catholics, but that is by no means mandatory.
The nuns are led by The Reverend Mother Regina, played by Marjory Lewis. Lewis's decades of stage experience, including a couple of stints on Broadway, show in her control of the stage whenever she is on. She has plenty of charm, and her turn as the Hindenburg Blimp in a musical historical pageant, is hilarious. However, I missed some of the steely flint that would cause the other sisters (and no doubt, a thousand school kids) to be afraid of her.
Laurie Holmes as Sister Hubert is making her return to the stage after 20 years. She has the strongest singing voice of the nuns, and I hope we see - and hear - more from her soon. Valley favorite Karen Schmitt returns as Sister Mary Amnesia, the role she played in the company's previous production of The Mega Musical. Her funniest moment is singing a ventriloquist's duet with a nun puppet. Michelle Mendoza, who gained audience attention as the prim and efficient secretary of Daddy Warbucks in Annie earlier this season, has done a complete 180 for her interpretation of Sister Robert Anne. We know that the sisters are from Hoboken, but Sister Robert Anne is truly from the Jersey streets. She's a tough broad who seems like she could bless you or shank you, depending on her mood. I was especially happy to see that she kept her character even in the choreography, not allowing herself to get too girly even on a step-ball-change.
One of the delights of the evening was Bella Odin as Sister Leo, the young novice who wants to bring her ministry to the world through dance. Odin was most recently seen in Annie as Duffy, one of the orphans. She was also the dance captain on that show, and though a youngster, helped many of the older actors learn their steps. Now she's stepping out as a young adult, and she shows plenty of promise as a triple threat (singer, dancer, actor). I always get very emotional as I watch young performers mature on stage, segueing from child to adult before our eyes.
Directed by Artistic Director Lance Phillips-Martinez, the show was musically directed by Don Kelly, Choreographed and Costumed by Heidi Hapner, Set by Allan H. Jensen, Lighting by Phil Murphy, Sound by Miguel Arballo, and Stage Managed by Tresa Oden.
Nunsensations plays through January 28, and will be followed by On Golden Pond in February, Grease in March, and Jewtopia in April. Tickets and information are available at DTWorks.org.
Photos by Paul Hayashi