The JCS Summer Community Theatre is here to show you the humor of the nun! That’s right, they’re back in the habit— well, some habits are returning to the stage at any rate (remember two summers ago and all the nuns from their great production of The Sound of Music?)— and the JCSSCT is thrilled to be debuting Nunsense as their summer show. Directed and Choreographed by Dickie Mahoney, with Choreography Assistant Leslie Perry, these nuns will have you rolling with their she-nun-igans all throughout this production of Nunsense.
The libretto places the Little Sisters of Hoboken in the auditorium of their local Catholic school where the middle grade kids are doing a production of Grease (which Reverend Mother turns into a terrible pun by saying that they’re doing the musical ‘Lubrication.’) Leave it to Set Designer Bob Denton to actually craft up a fully outfitted set of Grease the musical for the show. Complete with locker banks, the car, the malt-shop stools and counter, Denton’s set is quite the tricked out event! Enhancing the humors are the iconic cardboard cutouts of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, the latter of which launches Reverend Mother into a tizzy when she sees how scantily the pop icon is clad!
Working in tandem with Sound and Lighting Designer Ed Lake, Denton creates a welcoming atmosphere for these five sisters to do their stuff, which is naturally them putting on a talent show to raise money to bury dead nuns who are currently in the freezer of the convent. The lighting effects are supportive of the show’s movement, flashy in places where spotlights (operated by Sister Mary Myopia, Sammi Flickenger) are needed and simple bursts of color add a layer of fun and funky flavor to what’s happening on the stage. With Denton and Lake tag-teaming the production side of the show, there’s great quality to be had in the show’s creative values.
Director and Choreographer Dickie Mahoney, assisted by Leslie Perry, find ways to keep the nuns moving with energy and enthusiasm without creating routines that are too complex for the lengthy habits worn by the nuns. (After all, they’re NUNS, who generally don’t find themselves in positions to be leaping and flailing about on the stage!) Mahoney takes inspiration from Vaudeville style moves for the group numbers like “Nunsense is Habit Forming.” Perry assists Mahoney with the ballet routine performed by Sister Leo in “Benedicite” as well as with the tap routine— featuring Sister Mary Myopia (Sammi Flickinger) and Sister Mary Thomas (Brenna Patzer)— for “Tackle That Temptation with a Two Step.” There’s lots of fun and exciting motion happening all around the stage because Mahoney keeps the moves simple and clean, allowing the nun’s personalities to carry the extra energy of the dances to make them engaging.
Sister Mary Terry (Terry Matthews) is leading the lively pit and engaging with the five principal sisters on the stage throughout the production. The musicality of the show finds great pillars of strength and support in both Matthews’ pit performance and the work of Musical Director Steven Soltow. There are a few tricky numbers that feature some perilous blended harmonies, like “Clean Out the Freezer” and the challenging duet, “Just a Coupl’a Sisters”, featuring Reverend Mother and Sister Mary Hubert, but Soltow guides the sisters through them with a smashing success rate, creating good, sturdy, harmonious sounds to keep the show going.
Delicate and adorable, the novitiate nun, Sister Mary Leo (Elise Starkey) puts her dulcet vocal tones to the test when blending with the sisters for the larger group numbers. Her moment to shine in the spotlight is early in the first act as she twirls her ballerina figure all through “Benedicite”, exploring the lighthearted joys of the dance first thing in the morning. Starkey has a warm and inviting, expressive nature and plays the character with a welcoming openness that would attract nearly anyone to the calling just from listening to her tale.
They promise to show you the humor of the nun and show you the humor of the nun they do! The good old Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina (Marge Ricci) is fondly reminiscent of the stalwart and cantankerous old battleaxes of every Catholic school nightmare. Ricci is firm in her delivery, and has her hands full with the absent-minded Sister Amnesia, the spirited Sister Robert Ann, the flighty Sister Leo, and her second-in-command, the green-eyed Sister Hubert. Ricci creates a different personal relationship with each of these nuns, fabricating the true notion of being the Mother Superior in charge. With a biting edge to her drier sense of humor, Ricci fits into the character just fine, especially when singing her way through the heavy patter of “A Difficult Transition”, the number which tells the tale of just how their order came to be where they are.
Sister Mary Hubert (Lisa Pastella) is a proper foil for Ricci’s Reverend Mother. There isn’t much contempt burbling underneath her habit, as many are prone to having when taking up the role of Mary Hubert, but instead Pastella finds an intriguing way of transforming the character’s subtle jealousy into something useful. She channels it into her vocal strength, which gives her nun-super-powers for “Holier Than Thou.” All but bringing the house down with her gospel belting, Pastella has everyone’s attention as she inspires a glorious sound and feeling in this number. The humor she imports to her duet with Reverend Mother, “The Biggest Ain’t the Best” is plucky but earnest, giving her nun a real firm footing in honest reality.
Brassy, bold, and possessed of a larger than life personality, Sister Robert Ann (Laurie Starkey) is quite the character among this group of nuns. With that brash Brooklyn accent (and her street-smart converse sneakers) you can tell she’s not your average nun. Starkey possesses unfathomable patter prowess when it comes to rolling her way through “Playing Second Fiddle”, its conclusion, and its reprise. Not only can you clearly hear all of the words that she’s pattering but she does so with rich inflection and emotional intention. Starkey delivers one of the most sincere and touching moments in the show with her solo of “Growing Up Catholic.” Touching, sentimental, and congenial, this moment rings true and brings a beautiful balance to the otherwise irreverently comic nature of the show. Starkey showcases that side of the Robert Ann character— the irreverent comic side— with her habit-imitations and during “I Just Want to Be a Star.”
The show-stealing queen of nuns is ‘nun’ other than Sister Amnesia (Julie Parrish.) With her bright and vacant expression, Parrish’s hyper animated expressive facial features really draw the audience into the absurdity of the comedy that is written into the role. The way she constantly is misplaced, facing the wrong direction, or ever so slightly out of touch with what’s happening around her is hysterical. And the innocence with which she approaches the character adds to that humor exponentially. The interactive-audience quiz segment of the show brings Parrish right out into the thick of it and you’ll burst a lung from laughing so hard at all her antics. The hands down most hilarious moment in the show is when Parrish brings Sister Mary Annette (a crude and foul-mouthed hand-puppet) onto the stage to do “So You Want to Be a Nun”, a duet that Mary Annette and Mary Amnesia (both performed by Parrish, with full voice, fantastical ventriloquism and clever blocking tricks) pull off with wild rigor. Parrish’s ability to transition her voice from the holy-rafter-ringing soprano of Sister Mary Amnesia straight into the guttural belting brassiness of Sister Mary Annette is “drop-to-your-knees” praiseworthy. But there’s a deeply sincere moment in Parrish’s track as well, and when she hits the climax of “I Could Have Gone to Nashville”, it sends shivers up the spine.
These nuns will have you cracking up and you’ll walk away feeling a good deal better about this world after you’ve fully ingested an evening with these ridiculous, hilarious, and fun-loving nuns! Nunsense is a great summer opportunity to laugh your sins away, I must confess, it’s quite the best, so don’t miss your chance to get down and explore the humor of the nun this summer with JCSSCT!
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission