BWW Reviews: Heavenly Fun Fills the Stage at Theatre By the Sea's NUNSENSE
Sometimes, all a writer/producer/director has to do is find one perfect combination of elements, that one elusive perfect formula, and it immediately takes off. More than that, it becomes a huge success, lasting for years and spawning a long line of sequels, spin-offs and imitators. Think of the tv show Law & Order or the National Lampoon's series of movies. In the theatrical world, the equivalent musical might just be Nunsense. This hit musical comedy, with lyrics, book and music by Dan Goggin, has become the second-longest-running Off-Broadway show in history and has led to many sequels. In a nice bit of symmetry, Nunsense is now being presented at one of this area's most successful and longest-running venues, Theatre By the Sea.
Few local theaters can claim the kind of longevity found at the historic barn at the beach in Matunuck. In fact, Theatre By the Sea is celebrating its 80th anniversary this summer. For the past five seasons, shows were produced by Ocean State Theatre Company, which recently moved to its own space in Warwick. Now, Bill Hanney, who originally purchased the property and brought in Ocean State to produce the shows, is actually producing them himself. It's clear that Hanney is going for commercial success rather than artistic creativity or exploration, and in that sense, Nunsense may be the perfect way to start his first summer as Producer.
The show's plot is about as thin and full of holes as a slice of Swiss cheese, but truly that's not the reason anyone goes to see it. Briefly, the story concerns five nuns who are putting on a benefit concert to raise money for their convent, the Little Sisters of Hoboken. After an unfortunate accident involving some soup, most of the nuns have passed away and money is needed to get a few of the deceased to their final resting place. To say more than that would undoubtedly ruin some of the fun and there is plenty of fun to be had.
For the most part, that fun is not found in the songs, most of which are forgettable. They are also extremely random, for lack of a better word, and don't really deal with much of anything. They're mostly superficial, lacking in any kind of depth or meaning and at times don't make much sense in the context of what's going on. Where the fun does happen, though, is when the nuns stop singing and start doing things like telling stories, quizzing the audience and accidentally getting stoned. In those moments, Goggin shows his talent as a writer and the cast demonstrates how brilliantly funny they can be.
Reverend Mother Mary Regina, of course, leads the flock and is played here by Terry Wickline. At times stone cold serious, Wickline's Reverend Mother also has sparks of sarcasm, snarkiness and razor sharp wit. When she really lets loose, as when she sings about her past in the circus or accidentally does some drugs, Wickline is a joy to behold.
Bambi Jones and Christine Mild star as Sister Mary Hubert and Sister Robert Anne, respectively. They're both excellent singers with powerful voices, but they don't get to showcase them very often. As far as their characters go, neither are developed at all and we never really get to know either woman. Mostly, they just observe and react, except when they get to finally perform a big solo number and show everyone how heavenly they are. As the toKen Young, inexperienced nun, Stephanie Wahl is also woefully underused. Her Sister Mary Leo hardly ever gets to do anything but dance or be a glorified backup singer. Wahl, who is clearly a triple threat waiting to happen, never really gets the chance to shine.
Truly, though, the show belongs to the final nun, Sister Amnesia, so named because she lost her memory and can't remember her name. As played by Jeanne Tinker, her facial expressions alone are worth the price of a ticket. Her Sister spends most of the show seeming befuddled and confused but always pure of heart and intention. Tinker easily has the most personality and comic talent of the bunch and also happens to have the two best songs in the show, both of which she hits out of the park. I challenge anyone to see this show and not fall a little bit in love with Sister Amnesia.
Like the success of Nunsense itself, you can't' argue with Bill Hanney's accomplishments in recent years, such as his successful reopening of North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. Hopefully, that success will continue and Theatre By the Sea will remain open for many, many summers to come. This show is certainly a good way to start.
Nunsense runs May 29 - June 16. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays. Show times
are: Tuesday - Friday 8:00pm; Thursday 2:00pm; Saturday 4:00pm and 8:00pm; Sunday 3:00pm(first
week only), 5:00pm, and 8:00pm(first week only). Tickets are $39, $49, & $59. Tickets are on sale now
by calling (401)782-8587, online at theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road,
Wakefield, RI 02879.