A heavenly show


Words, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin
Directed and choreographed by Brian Swasey
Music director Matt Castle
Astoria Performing Arts Center
31-30, 33rd Street (718/278-5925)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 30)
Review by Charles Battersby

Nunsense (and its four sequels and spin-offs) has become a huge worldwide success, and rightfully so. For those not familiar with this "habit-forming musical," the plot involves five nuns staging a benefit variety show to earn the money needed to bury four of their sisters who died from food poisoning. There’s something in there about someone having amnesia and someone wanting to be a ballerina and blah blah blah, but the story is just an excuse to have five crazy women in nun outfits run amok in the theatre. And amok they do run! The story doesn’t answer any of the great mysteries of the universe, but that doesn’t matter, since the reason for seeing Nunsense is the non-stop, fall-out-of-your-chair hilarity.

The songs and sketches are all hysterical, without a single weak link in the lot. Although it sometimes borders on blasphemy, the play generally sidesteps any serious commentary on religion. While it does have some Catholic inside jokes, virtually all of it is non-denominational.

The "Little Sisters of Hoboken" were all played by women (many Nunsense productions use cross-gender casting), and the gals generally proved to be better singers than they were actresses, but given the fact they were all accomplished actresses, that’s not a bad thing. Unilaterally funny and wholly believable in their roles, there wasn’t a loose shingle among them. Gina Holland, as sister Amnesia, was somewhat funnier than the rest, but much silliness still abounded in all five women.

The set (Michael P. Kramer) the "Little Sisters of Hoboken" used for their show was also shared by a production of "Grease," so the nuns found themselves in Rydell High, complete with Danny Zuko’s car Greased Lightning. Lighting designer Niklas Anderson had a big job keeping up with the fast-paced comedy, especially when the Sisters headed into the audience. Anderson was up to the challenge, though, and even used Greased Lightning’s functioning headlights to light one musical number (blinding the front row).

Director/choreographer Brian Swasey kept the choreography fairly simple, but how can you go wrong with five nuns tap-dancing in a chorus line? Swasey filled the entire theatre with action, taking the fun into the audience with plenty of audience-interactive sequences, and even letting the orchestra get into the action.

Musical director Matt Castle had good clay to work with in this show. The cast were all experienced musical-theatre performers, and Castle successfully brought out the individual flair of the wildly eclectic musical numbers.

The only thing about the show that wasn’t spectacular were the costumes. This was not costume designer Stephanie Patrick’s fault, though. Ms. Patrick had to put five women in the same outfit, more or less, and even though the costumes were believably nunnish, it was still just five women in poorly fitting black dresses and wimples. Given the quality of the rest of the show, there is no doubt that if APAC had produced something which justified extravagant costumes like "Victor/ Victoria," the costumes would have been FAB-you-luss!

(Also featuring Lydia Gladstone, Alisa Schiff, Genevieve Baer and Julia Snider.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby