OGDEN — Nunsense! is a play that gets mounted repeatedly because it is a truly great musical comedy. The book, music, and lyrics were penned by Dan Goggin and opened Off-Broadway in 1985. There are a few jokes that are sagging a little with age, but most of that age is easily hidden under the habit and wimple of a hilarious show about ridiculous nuns. The premise is as simple as it is absurd: the Little Sisters of Hoboken are putting on a benefit revue to raise money to bury the last 4 of 52 nuns who died of botulism from a bad batch of vichyssoise soup made by the convent cook, Sister Julia (Child of God).
The surviving five nuns are Hubert, Robert Anne, Amnesia, Leo, and the Reverend Mother. These sisters were spared, because they had been at a cut-throat Bingo night across town. Presiding over the show is the Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina (Maren Scriven Swensen) who tries in vain to maintain order but is repeatedly undone by her own irrepressible mischievousness and natural love for the spotlight. Swensen’s performance came alive on her solo, “Turn Up the Spotlight,” as her strong voice belted out the jazzy tune. I also enjoyed watching the Reverend Mother get high on “rush”—which is very different from DoTerra.
The standout performer of the night was Emily Richards as Sister Amnesia. Richards’s voice is powerful as she deftly performs a role that requires a lot of vocal range as well as comedic timing. Sister Amnesia sings a “duet” with the irreverent Sister Mary-Annette (a puppet sidekick) that had me in stitches. I also enjoyed Richards’s twang during the song, “I Could Have Gone to Nashville,” where she gives the excellent prayer, “Drop kick me, Jesus, through the goalpost of life.”
Sister Leo (Seanate Nielson) is a novice who wants to be the first famous ballerina nun. Nielson has great comedic timing and adds a great deal of humor through the dance and movement of her character. Sister Leo’s interpretive dance of dying via vichyssoise soup was hilariously executed.
Sister Hubert, played by Elinor Blankenship, was grounded and often played an excellent straight-man to Sister Robert Anne (Breanne Hendricks). Robert Anne is the street-wise sister who seems far too irreverent to have chosen a life in the cloister. Robert Anne loves to do impressions, of which her “Trump” was a riot. Hendricks plays the boisterous nun well and added a great deal of softness to her character when she sings the most beautiful song, “Growing Up Catholic,” which adds surprising depth to such a fun musical romp.
Director Melissa Trenery has the show really focus on the music and the story. The set design by Matt Trenery (and Mount St. Helen Middle School Cast) is very simplistic and utilitarian. It gives the main feel of an auditorium set up for the musical Grease with a few key set pieces. Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse has a very intimate set up that makes every seat in the house an excellent one. Nunsense! has no fourth wall, and the audience is interacted with and expected to pay attention, because there could always be a pop-quiz by a ruler-wielding nun. Sister Mary Amnesia happened to call on me, but luckily I had been paying attention and knew the right answer. Whew!
One of the best things about Nunsense! is that it is so funny and yet features only the five female roles. The costumes, designed by Jacci Florence, have to be nearly identical as you can only take so much liberty with the traditional habit, wimple, and veil. So, it is up to the actresses to make their characters shine uniquely, which in this performance they do well. The music is full of rich harmony that was well-executed in all but a few small sections of the performance, particularly during, “Just A Coupl’a Sisters.”
Overall, this performance is an excellent rendition of a classic musical comedy. Even if seen before, this show is worth watching again, because it is full of upbeat music and zingy one-liners that are funny, just bordering on irreverent, and it always makes for a great night at the theatre. Beverly’s Terrace Plaza has mounted an excellent rendition of this time-tested comedy.