Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Cabaret
Dan Goggin (book, music and lyrics) has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of his Nunsense series of shows, but this was the first time I've ever seen this musical onstage. Having opened in the mid-1980s, quite a bit has changed in the world and in culture over the years and, smartly, Nunsense has been nicely updated to reflect the changing times. Still, the basic plot of the show has remained the same: in circumstances too complicated and cryptic to get into, five nuns are desperate to raise funds and they are continuously searching for a way to do just that. In between their antics, the nuns sing a series of tuneful and funny songs that light up the stage.
With a skillful onstage band led by expert music director Melanie Guerin, all five actresses get individual moments to shine. As Sister Mary Regina (Mother Superior), Amanda Forker sets the perfect tone for the show, by playing her role both seriously and more than a bit tongue-in-cheek. This is a fine balance to maintain and, fortunately, a quality that all five actresses display effortlessly. Forker is often a scream and she gets such sprightly numbers as "Turn Up the Spotlight" and "Lilacs Bring Back Memories."
On "Lilacs...," Forker is joined by Brandi Porter as Sister Mary Hubert, Rachel Oremland as Sister Mary Leo; and Hillary Ekwall as Sister Mary Amnesia. In a cast of equals, it must be noted that Porter scores hugely leading the next-to-closing song, "Holier Than Thou," where she demonstrates just how vocally talented she is, with a voice that can truly rock the rafters. Her fellow performers do just fine, as well. Oremland is great in her duet with Porter, "The Biggest Ain't the Best," and brings more than a bit of levity to the show.
As Sister Mary Amnesia, Ekwall has perhaps the nuttiest role and she is terrific in her second act specialty number, "I Could Have Gone to Nashville." As the eternal understudy in the convent and the show-within-the-show, Dickinson is a total riot, especially in such numbers as "Playing Second Fiddle" and "I Just Want to Be a Star." In addition to the songs, these performers get big laughs from some very funny, as well as some very hoary, jokes and Nunsense seems to glide across the stage with a zany combination of mirth and (naturally) the various traditions and ways of Catholicism (Dan Goggin certainly knows his religious territory, and in his writing, often turns it on its head).
The pleasures of this Nunsense include excellent scenic design by Johann Fitzpatrick and Shane Cassidy's ideal lighting. If Lisa Ann Steier's costumes mostly consist of nun's habits, she still has fun sending up these outfits.
Just about everything works in Darlene Zoller's production of Nunsense and Playhouse on Park can be saluted for bringing some welcome (and much needed) joy and laughter to the stage.
Nunsense runs through October 13, 2019, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.