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Review: NUNSENSE at Arizona Broadway Theatre

Now on stage at Arizona Broadway Theatre's Encore Room through May 16th

Review: NUNSENSE at Arizona Broadway Theatre

There was a point in time when NUNSENSE, a mindless frolic conceived by composer and greeting card entrepreneur Dan Goggin was considered funny. It's a long way from the '80's ~ its audiences and tastes ~ when a groaner like this could snag rave reviews and awards (Outer Critics Circle for best off-Broadway musical), attract the golden comedy queens of that era (the likes of Edie Adams, Kaye Ballard, Pat Carroll, Peggy Cass, Phyllis Diller, Sally Struthers, Joanne Worley) to perform in featured roles, spawn multiple adaptations and spinoffs, and become the second longest-running Off-Broadway show in history (after The Fantasticks).

That time, this reviewer ventures to say, has passed...or maybe should have. Bulging with lame jokes and limp punch lines, audience quizzes and vignettes that fall flatter than pancakes, the script sags under its own weight and challenges its audience to offer up only a fair share of conciliatory laughs.

Given the predilection of theatre companies to roll out old chestnuts, this doesn't mean that troupes of the 21st Century won't give it a go.

Hence, the current production at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

In a show that may have worn out its Heavenly stage welcome, its Saving Grace is embodied in an ensemble of five artists who render performances that rise above the script. Thankfully, through the ninety-some minutes of show time, a heavenly host of angelic voices lifts the spirit.

For those unfamiliar with the story line, here's the reader's digest version. The nunnery of the Little Sisters of Hoboken is in a quandary. Their cook, Sister Julia Child of God, has inadvertently knocked off fifty-two fellow nuns with a toxic vichyssoise.

It costs to mount to funeral for so many dearly departed. What else to do but do a talent show fundraiser!

Where else to do it but in the auditorium of the local high school where, by chance, the set before which they'll perform their antics is that of GREASE! It's about contrast! Clad in their habits and loose-fitting wimples, the gang carouses among a life-size portrait of James Dean, a cardboard(?) model of a vintage Chevy, a bubble gum machine and other paraphernalia of the period.

Enter the entertainers!Review: NUNSENSE at Arizona Broadway Theatre

If anyone could send you over the edge in spasms of happy laughter...if there's one artist who makes attendance worth the price of the ticket, that mercurial someone is Renée Kathleen Koher.

As Sister Mary Amnesia (whose true identity is crucial to the show's happy ending), Koher is sensational as a daffy and confused member of the order. She adds to one devil of a divine voice a masterful comedic sensibility (to wit, her wild-eyed reading from Sister Julia's cookbook on how to make Boy Scout treats (a reading, admittedly in today's environs of questionable taste), and an uncanny talent as a ventriloquist in one of the best moments of the show (So You Want To Be A Nun). Brava, Sister Koher!

Liz Fallon adds a fulsome dose of personality, accent, and vigor to her role as the Canarsie-born and worldly-wise Sister Mary Robert. She raises the altar with a powerhouse voice that anoints songs like Another Surprise and I Just Want to Be A Star (on the choice between the convent and a life on the stage) with blessed clarity and passion.

Blair Beasley brings sweet balance to the corps as Sister Mary Hubert. She is a smooth presence on stage with an eye to maintaining order, speaking practical truths (The Biggest Ain't The Best), and doing a carpenter's job on the roofbeams, nailing the show to its completion with a rousing rendition of Holier Than Thou.

Alexia Lorch plays the tender-voiced and agile novice with a fancy for ballet and a flair for mischief.

Rounding out the cast and supervising the dis-order is Kathi Osborne as Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina. Director Kurtis Overby has her chewing the scenery as the beleaguered leader with a permanent frown and frustration over the foibles of her assignees...too often too over the top. It's not until she reflects on her past life in the circus that the full range of this Broadway veteran's talent surfaces. This is Osborne's shining moment (Turn Up The Spotlight) as she delivers a firecracker of a performance, replete with scarlet feathered fans, in the vein of the great Ethel Merman, in a reverie about the woman she might have been had she not become a nun.

When Osborne teams up with Beasley in Just A Coupla Sisters, you start remembering what transcendent moments in musical theatre can feel like if only the story lines could match.

NUNSENSE runs through May 16th in the Encore Room at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, AZ.

Arizona Broadway Theatre ~ ~ 7701 W Paradise Lane, Peoria, AZ ~ 623-776-8400.

Photo Credit: Kat Barnes

(Photo 1, L to R: Blair Beasley, Alexia Lorch, Kathi Osborne, Renée Kathleen Koher, Liz Fallon. Photo 2: Koher with puppet)

Regional Awards

From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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