Vulgar, irreverent and awash in cheap shots, Nunsense may be the silliest show in town. But despite its bad habits, this bit of fluff has one redeeming feature: The music is actually pretty darn good.
Of course, it takes enormous energy to sell the songs here, which comment on everything from dead nuns in a freezer to the perils of life inside a leper colony. But the five women who make up the cast at the Aurora Fox are nothing if not energetic. Some of them are more experienced than others at belting out earthy show tunes. But together they make enough convent-ional wisdom to allow a sweet, sentimental tune like "Growing Up Catholic" to fit neatly in the mix.
The story of this oft-produced trifle takes place in the gymnasium at Mt. St. Helen's School, where the Little Sisters of Hoboken have just suffered a major disaster: Fifty-two of their number have perished suddenly from botulism. It seems that Sister Julia, Child of God, made a particularly lethal vichyssoise one night when nineteen sisters were off playing bingo. Only the gamblers and Sister Julia were spared, and while they found enough money to bury forty-eight of their dead, four more have been put on ice until such time as the Little Sisters can raise more cash.
The action takes place in the gym, because that's where the fundraiser is being held. After a short history lesson ("A Difficult Transition"), Sister Mary Amnesia, who was hit on the head by a large crucifix and can't remember who she is, tests the audience on convent history and hands out prizes for correct answers. In one of the best bits of the evening, she scouts out a true-life Catholic in the audience, makes the person name three of the Ten Commandments, then gives the lucky winner a piece of costume jewelry as a prize. Religious kitsch becomes a joke unto itself.
Each of the sisters will eventually tell her own story in song, the health department will order an instant thaw of the blue nuns ("We've Got to Clean Out the Freezer"), and we'll learn what it means to Sister Julia to bake with the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary).
Jan Giese is always a kick to watch, and as Sister Mary Hubert, second in command, she has a fire-in-the-belly style and an irresistible comic twinkle. Melinda Wilson and Jennifer Littlefield both have pretty voices and good presence, but neither has developed the consistent projection that singers need on stage--too often, we just can't hear them clearly. Susan Koenig seems miscast as the Mother Superior; she has a couple of good numbers, but she doesn't seem to understand that this kind of goofy comedy requires equally goofy behavior.
The surprise of the evening is Mary Louise Lee as Sister Robert Anne. Lee has a terrific voice that shows all the signs of developing into a truly powerful instrument. And as an actress, she brings exuberance and grace to the role of the "streetwise" sister, along with the beginnings of a charming comic technique.
Nunsense is ultimately nonsense, of course. But if you're in the market for a mindless evening of one-liners and comic songs, you could do a lot worse than these twisted sisters.
Nunsense, through December 15 at the Aurora Fox, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 361-2910.
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