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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Nunsense Entertaining Summer Theater at the Bickford

Nunsense
Kristin Michelle, Amanda Yachechak, Gwendolyn F. Jones, Katie Mott
and Geraldine Leer

Judging by the large and happy audience at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, artistic director Eric Hafen has proven to be wise in his selection of the original Nunsense to be his theatre's first summer production.

As ever, five of the nineteen surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken are on hand to deliver a benefit performance of their self-created variety show in order to raise funds to pay the burial cost of four of their number. It seems that 52 members of their order died after their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisoned them with her botulism tainted vichyssoise (the survivors were away playing bingo when the vichyssoise was served). Forty-eight were previously buried after the Little Sisters had raised the necessary funds, but the Reverend Mother had used the last of the money to buy a plasma television before burying the last four whose bodies await interment in the convent food freezer. Today, when our elected politicians burn our money on their partisan goals and then dun us for money that is sorely needed for critical needs, this bit of silliness now has become been a cutting edge, insightful indictment of our elected officials.

Nunsense is a phenomenon. Its original Off-Broadway production, which opened in 1985, ran nearly ten years, racking up a total of over 3,600 performances. It hardly has a thought in its head as it spritely entertains with its show business obsessed group of sweet and good-hearted, ditzy nuns telling us about themselves by telling stories and jokes, and singing lighthearted, simple, amiable songs and stories. Dan Goggin (book, music and lyrics) hardly ever misses a beat, providing updated references as the years pass in order to keep his invention as fresh as possible. While I doubt that Nunsense made reference over 25 years ago to the Little Sisters being out of step with modern fashion in that they dress in traditional habits, I am certain that "hip hop" was not then part of the musical program. Nunsense is ever so slightly risqu้ on occasion seemingly only to the delight of the Little Sisters' fans.

I am happy to report that Nunsense is in good hands at the Bickford. Under the sure handed direction of Eric Hafen, all five Sisters provide pleasure. Gwendolyn F. Jones plays Reverend Mother Mary Regina as an ineffectual would-be tyrant with just the right amount of Mama Rose struggling unsuccessfully not to break out. Geraldine Leer is a bit sweeter, but no less caustic as her critical lieutenant Sister Mary Hubert, who is in charge of the novices and sees herself as a rival to Mother Mary. Jones and Leer were appropriately rewarded by the audience response to their show bizzy second act duet, "Just a Coupla Sisters".

Amanda Yachechak does ditzy and dances effectively as ballerina novice Sister Mary Leo who expects to achieve fame as The Dancing Nun. Kate Mott is both funny and poignant as Sister Robert Ann, still rough hewn from her street-wise, hot to trot adolescence in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.

A high point of Nunsense is the song "Growing Up Catholic," which is sung by Kate Mott. It has a bit of gravitas and introspection which is most appealing:

Nuns appeared in black and white
And so did every rule
Things were either wrong or right
At St. Clare's Catholic School

And then the rules began to change
And many lost their way
What was always black and white
Was turning shades of grey

Outstanding and with spectacular vocal chops is Kristen Michelle as (and her name tells it all) Sister Mary Amnesia. Her classically trained soprano and country pop vocalizing are both to be treasured. Michelle also delights us by conveying Amnesia's high level of comic insanity simultaneous with an adorable sweetness.

Dan Goggin has written on the order of eight Nunsense sequel comic musicals. I've seen a couple of them, and found them to do very well in holding up to the standard set by the original. I would not be surprised to see more Nunsense in the Bickford Theatre's future.

Nunsense continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday (8/8) 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturday (8/4) Matinees.: Thursdays Sundays 2 pm) through August 12, 2012 at the at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960, Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.

Nunsense book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin; directed by Eric Hafen

Cast
Rev. Mother Mary Regina…….Gwendolyn F. Jones
Sister Mary Hubert…………………...Geraldine Leer
Sister Mary Amnesia………………..Kristen Michelle
Sister Mary Leo………………….Amanda Yachechak
Sister Robert Anne………………………….Katie Mott


Photo: Warren Westura


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- Bob Rendell



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