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Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun

Do not miss this insanely hilarious sex-switched musical.

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun

It's been a tough couple of years for most of us and many are looking for good-mood-inducing entertainment. Oy, have I got a production for you: Desert Theatreworks' (DTW's) NUNSENSE A-MEN!, by Dan Goggins. You'll REPENT if you miss this ahem, HEAVENLY treat, performed by a fabulous ensemble cast. (Yes, the puns in the show are that bad!)

This is definitely not a show for the kiddies - I would rate it PG-13. The bad-TASTE premise involves the Little Sisters of Hoboken (New Jersey) preparing a fundraiser to bury four members of their order, who died of food poisoning; it appears that Mother Superior miscalculated and ran out of money after burying only 48 of the victims of Sister Julia Child-of-God's vichyssoise. Mother Superior bought a large-screen TV with the rest of the money and was forced to store the last four dead sisters in the convent's freezer, until more money arrived. Did I hear cookbook sale, anyone? Yes, I did.

If you've seen the original NUNSENSE, which consists of hilariously stupid (stupidly hilarious?) jokes and songs, you've seen NUNSENSE A-MEN! - same book and lyrics, same music, and same characters, but with a twist: The cast is entirely made up of men. DTW's performers play their roles STRAIGHT rather than as if they were part of a drag show; if they wore stage makeup at all, they applied it with a light touch. Their earnestness adds to the hilarity, for example when rubber-faced, diminutive Raul Valenzuela glares at Charles Harvey's Mother Superior, and the tall Mother Superior glares back. The even more diminutive Larry Martin, playing postulant Mary Leo, is a dentist in real life; he performs an excellent ballet routine. DTW veterans Mark Demry and Michael Hamlin round out the cast. They, too, are DIVINE; this ensemble cast works together seamlessly. They ace the singing and dancing (ballet, Broadway-style, and tap), and their chemistry is terrific. I do not know if the score was transposed for male voices, but there were numerous spots where the performers sang in perfect falsetto, sounding just like sopranos.

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun The "nuns" were also quick on their feet thinking up responses during the audience participation portions. I don't know if an audience member whom I'll call Jack was a ringer, but he answered that he was Jewish when a "nun" asked if he was Catholic, setting up some funny and benign ad libs. We Jews aren't usually famous for our expertise regarding Catholicism, but Jack (who really is Jewish) knew the right answer to the quiz question. I hope he is enjoying the St. Christopher medal he won.Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun

Director Kam Sisco, who is well-known to Coachella Valley audiences for on-stage and behind the scenes performances, has chosen to keep the vaudeville-style dialogue fast-paced, which fits perfectly with the numerous vaudeville-style songs and dances; I kept expecting a "badabing" after some of the one-liners. One of jokes is that the nuns don't want to disturb their Mount Saint Helen's Catholic School students' GREASE production scenery. DTW's artistic director, Lance Phillips, designed the clever set. He could have easily gotten away with a 1950's bar stool or two, but he went all out, with an ice cream parlor with a moveable counter, and photos of 1950's pop cultural icons and a pink car. The set engaged me from the moment I walked into the theater. Choreographer Alana Fayth devised complex routines for the expert dancers and simpler, yet pleasing ones for the full cast. Dance numbers can fall flat in community theatre if a choreographer does not design steps suitable for everyone's level of expertise, but Alana avoided that trap. Lighting designer Duke Core and sound designer Adriana Reyes (assisted by sound board operator Ricardo Mendoza) round out the top-notch technical crew.

I have a special shout-out for musical director Douglas Wilson. I often complain about pre-recorded musical tracks, because I believe they lessen the excitement of a show while making life more difficult for the performers. I congratulate DTW on its decision to use live keyboard music in this production, performed onstage by the musical director. His onstage presence, dressed as a monk, allowed interaction through dialogue with the cast. I hope DTW will permanently adopt keyboard music, which worked so well here.

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at Desert Theatreworks is Heavenly (or maybe Hellacious) Fun
The Little Sisters of Hoboken (L-R): Michael Hamlin, Raul Valenzuela, Charles Harvey, Larry Martin, Mark Demry, and keyboardist Douglas Wilson.

The rest of the production team consists of DTW's chief executive officer Ron Phillips, production manager Rebecca McWilliams, and costumer Kathryn Ferguson. Jill of all trades Adriana Reyes, in addition to the sound design, serves as stage manager, props person, and special effects person, as well as operates the light board and follow spot.

If off-color nun humor disturbs anyone, that individual would be advised to stay away. Everybody else is likely to have a rollicking good time.

Finally, readers will notice a new photographer in the photo credit below. Sadly, long-time Coachella Valley community theatre photographer Paul Hayashi recently passed away. I knew Paul almost since I arrived in Southern California, and am heartbroken about his death. I extend condolences to his family members and many friends.

NUNSENSE A-MEN! will run through Sunday, February 5, 2023, with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. except for those on Sundays, which take place at 2:00 p.m. Check the ticket purchase information at www.dtworks.org for prices or call (760) 980-1455. All performances take place at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo Street, Indio, CA 92201. In partnership with C4 Communication, DTW will have ASL Interpreters at the Saturday, February 4th performance.

The rest of the 2022-23 season consists of:

Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP (2/10/23-3/5/23)

Jimmy Buffet's ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE (3/10/23-4/2/23)

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (4/14/23-4/30/23)

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (5/12/23-5/21/23)

PHOTO CREDIT: Sonny Von Cleveland



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If you’ve seen the original NUNSENSE, which consists of hilariously stupid (stupidly hilarious?) jokes and songs, you’ve seen NUNSENSE A-MEN! — same book and lyrics, same music, and same characters, but with a twist: The cast is entirely made up of men. DTW’s performers play their roles STRAIGHT rather than as if they were part of a drag show; if they wore stage makeup at all, they applied it with a light touch. Their earnestness adds to the hilarity, for example when rubber-faced, diminutive Raul Valenzuela glares at Charles Harvey’s Mother Superior, and the tall Mother Superior glares back. The even more diminutive Larry Martin, playing postulant Mary Leo, is a dentist in real life; he performs an excellent ballet routine. DTW veterans Mark Demry and Michael Hamlin round out the cast. They, too, are DIVINE; this ensemble cast works together seamlessly. They ace the singing and dancing (ballet, Broadway-style, and tap), and their chemistry is terrific.

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