Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at NextStop Theatre

Running through February 12th.

By: Jan. 22, 2024
Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at NextStop Theatre
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On January 20th, NextStop Theatre Company premiered their production of Nunsense A-Men!, directed by Andrew Regiec. Though quite cold outside, the inside of the cozy theater was busy and warm. 

Nunsense A-Men! Features five eccentric Nuns putting on a concert/show of sorts in order to make enough money to bury their late sisters, who passed due to a botulism-infested stew, and are taking up space in their freezer. The Sisters greet the audience directly and inform them of their misfortune, all the while bickering and joking with each other. 

We are introduced to the Nuns, and later on in the show learn their "thing," what makes them unique, interesting, or comical. Mother Superior (Harv Lester) is the willful leader, who makes questionable decisions and sometimes yearns for her previous life as a circus performer. Sister Hubert (Sylvern Groomes Jr) is second in command and is the most grounded one. Sister Leo (Benjamin Campion) is the Novice who dreams of becoming the world's first "Nun-Ballerina." Sister Amnesia (Patrick Payne) suffers from, of course, amnesia, and Sister Robert Anne (Ben Ribler) is the Brooklyn-born, streetsmart, underestimated one. 

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at NextStop Theatre
Patrick Payne as Sister Mary Amnesia (Photo Credit Joseph Edwards Photography)

They then sing and dance their way through their history, both personally and as a group. The show features a three-piece band, cleverly introduced in the world of the show as the "Interfaith Band." The talents feature Musical Director "Rabbi" Elsia Rosman on keys, Dakota Kaylor on drums, and Abraham Walter on bass. 

One of the first numbers involves the history of the sisters and their involvement with a leper colony and featured an overhead projector onto which scenes from the song were depicted. The pictures seemed pretty clearly to be AI-generated, which seems to be a bizarre choice for a small theatre to make, within the context of smaller creatives and the fear of/ outsourcing to automation. It didn't ruin the number, but seemed just a bit out of place, and at worst edging on distasteful. 

In addition to song, dance, and plot, the show featured a healthy dose of audience participation, including a pop quiz from Sister Amnesia. Almost every seat at this show was full, which surely added to the involved and boisterous atmosphere. No one is singled out who doesn't want to be, so shy theater-goers can rest assured they can remain one of the anonymous masses. 

When audience members first find their seats, they are greeted with the interior of some sort of gym/stage combination, common in churches and schools (Scenic Design by Jack Golden). The stage within a stage was done effectively, and set pieces were used for multiple purposes to multiple effects. As were the lights (designed by Hailey LaRose) which were at times simple and streamlined, and others maximal and flavorful.

Nunsense A-Men! is a spin-off of Nunsense, which is the same exact show however it is not men playing the sisters. It funnily enough originally was a line of greeting cards, then became a cabaret/ revue show, and then finally became a fully blown musical, and then eventually spinning off to the A-Men! part in Brazil where the original male cast performed. 

It makes sense that the show was once a revue, because, unfortunately, one may be able to tell at times. To no fault of the performers, the show's plot can feel loosely assembled around the songs, which shift very quickly and sharply, tonally, as if some scenes are just filling in time between two unrelated songs. 

The songs themselves, though, are very enjoyable, and impressively performed by the cast and band. They span a myriad of genres and styles, and our cast of nuns keeps up without breaking a sweat. There's tap dancing, boas, and even feathered fans. 

Review: NUNSENSE A-MEN! at NextStop Theatre
Harv Lester as Mother Superior (Photo Credit Joseph Edwards Photography)

The original Nunsense premiered in the 80s, with the "drag" version following in the late 90s. This production seemed to be partially updated, with contemporary jokes (The Reverend Mother gets a little woozy from huffing "Rush" brand poppers at one point), but still, for better or worse, has an 80s sensibility about it. Particularly when it comes to the main "gag" of the show, which is the simple fact that men are dressed like nuns. Once again to no fault of the performers or crew, the lack of any sort of commentary on or allusion to any sort of ideas about gender performance or roles, especially in the context of religion cheapens this main "gag," leading a contemporary audience to ask "okay, and?"

The religious humor was where the comedy shined. There were many esoteric references to the rituals and culture of Catholicism, as well as many other sects, branches, and groups of Christianity. 

The cast had great chemistry, both comedically and sonically, and overall played the Sisters believably, with humor and grace. Due to the writing of the show some of the characters felt significantly more developed than others. One Sister may have a full arc that develops and resolves throughout the show, while another may get just a song or two. However, the show is about Sisters as a group, the family that is their convent, so the focus is on the ensemble, and that is when the show is strongest. 

Patrick Payne as Sister Amnesia proved especially enjoyable, not only in the delivery of her lines and vocals but in her constant ad-libbing, quick wit, and commitment to the ditzy and "challenged" nature of the role. 

Nunsense A-Men! is a rowdy and twisting musical ride through Catholicism. The show is full of great music, fun, cabaret-style dancing, and engaging interaction, however, is limited to its script, and the original time and context of the show. The slight shortcomings do not however overshadow what are really entertaining performances from the cast, and if you like Musical Revues or Catholicism, then this may be the show for you. 

Information on tickets, including accessible seating, can be found on NextStop's website. The show runs through February 11th, on Thursdays (save the 25th), Fridays, and Saturdays, and is 2 hours long with an intermission. 


 




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