Habit forming


Nunsense A-Men!


Book, Music and Lyrics by Dan Goggin

Directed by Peter Mussared

Center Stage Community Playhouse (www.centerstageplayhouse.org)

St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 2474 Westchester Ave, The Bronx

Non-union production (closed April 19, 2008)

Review by Judd Hollander


There's laughter in the audience, and in the convent, as Center Stage Community Playhouse present Dan Goggin's musical Nunsense A-Men!, one of the shows in the Nunsense canon (there are at least four). However this production, while quite enjoyable, is somewhat undermined by cast and technical problems. The tuner tells the same story as the original Nunsense, with the twist being that in this version, all the roles are played by men.


The plot deals with The Little Sisters of Hoboken, who recently lost 52 members of their Order when their cook Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally served poisoned vichyssoise one night at dinner. Thus far, the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina, a.k.a. the Reverend Mother (Willie Halley) and the remaining nuns have raised enough money to bury 48 of the 52, with the final four languishing in the kitchen freezer until funds can be obtained for their interment. Now, in the best tradition of a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie, the nuns have decided to put on a show to raise money for the burials. Joining the Mother Superior in this endeavor is Sister Mary Hubert (Anthony Castellano), the mistress of the convent novices and number two on the totem pole, with a definite eye on the top spot (a fact of which the Reverend Mother is all too aware). Also involved is Sister Robert Anne (Paul Pagano) who is understudying most of the roles in the show, but who wants to be a star in her own right; as well as Sister Mary Leo (Bryan Zoppi), who loves the ballet with all her heart; and Sister Mary Amnesia (Leigh Cambre), who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.


Not really a musical review, the show is more a collection of skits, sketches and moldy old jokes. All of which are fun, but sometimes the cast doesn’t seem to completely trust  the material and plays it too broadly, especially when it comes to delivering one-liners. This is a problem which must be lain at the feet of director Peter Mussared for not taking the cast more firmly in hand. Still there's a lot to like here, such as a section where the nuns try to sell a book of recopies entitled "Cooking With The BVM" (Blessed Virgin Mary), which offers such delicacies as Mary Magdalene Tarts, not to mention Sister Julia's recipe, which started all the problems in the first place. There's also a hilarious sketch with Sister Amnesia and a ventriloquist dummy, as well as a funny audience participation segment.


Also working for the musical is its very enjoyable score, with such tunes as ‘Tackle That Temptation With a Time-Step’, ‘We've Got to Clean Out the Freezer’, ‘Just a Coup'la Sisters’ (which brings to mind the classic ‘Bosom Buddy’ number from Mame), ‘The Drive-In’, done in the style of a 1940s Andrews Sisters song, and the very enjoyable title tune.  The high-kick sequences continually brought cheers from the audience. Musical accompaniment was provided by very a enjoyable on-stage band (Mark Akens - 1st Keyboard, Patrick Grady - 2nd Keyboard, Carras Paton - Reeds and Steve Finkelstein - Drums).


Unfortunately, many of the musical numbers suffer from severe over-amplification, something not really necessary in the rather small church space. The result is that many of the lyrics, especially those sung by Halley, are lost in the din. In addition, one of the actors went up on his lines during at least two of the songs he was in, thus weakening the tunes' overall effect.


Cast-wise, Halley makes for a good Mother Superior, trying to maintain order and decorum in an atmosphere of ever-rising chaos. Castellano is the standout in the group as the somewhat snide Sister Hubert; while Cambre is fun as Sister Mary Amnesia, who forgets the simplest things and has an air of continual befuddlement about her. Pagano is good as Sister Robert Anne, the lady who just wants to be a star, and Zoppi is fine is Sister Mary Leo.


There's no denying Nunsense A-Men! is a real crowd pleaser; indeed many in the audience gave the show a standing ovation when it was done. However, with a little tweaking, better direction and much less amplification, the show would have come out a whole lot better.


Costumes by director Mussared worked perfectly, as did the set by Jason Bolen. Lighting by Bolen also worked well.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting: 2

Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander


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