Act Two's 'Nunsense' is entertaining, not divine

June 18, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

"Nunsense," the lighthearted musical spoof that takes good-natured potshots at a frazzled order of Catholic nuns, is wacky, nonsensical and fun.

The show started life as a cabaret revue in New York and is now in its sixth year at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre on 42nd Street.

Currently on stage at Act Two Dinner Theatre through Aug. 9, the bawdy parody (with book, music and lyrics written by Dan Goggin, a former seminarian) garnered four 1986 Outer Critic Awards.

The silly story line centers on the religious order of the Little Sisters of Hoboken ("Little Hobos"), former members of a Mediterranean leper colony. They are faced with the ghastly problem of 52 dead nuns. The nuns, it seemed, succumbed to botulism, the result of a recipe prepared by the cook, Sister Julia, Child of God. Forty-eight of the deceased have been buried but the sisters cannot afford to inter the last four, so the remains have been stored in a deep freeze.

The surviving nuns decide to raise the necessary burial funds for their friends in cold storage by staging a variety show in the auditorium of Mt. Saint Helen's School in Hoboken -- on the set of the school's upcoming production of "Grease."

This makes for a comical, incongruous background as the nuns introduce themselves, tell their personal stories, crack corny jokes, tap dance and clown and happily sing their way through the 19 musical numbers.

Some of the numbers amusingly reflect the changes in the church and some reflect what the nuns might have become. The one nostalgic song is the lovely "Lilacs Bring Back Memories." There is the zany "Dying Nun Ballet," the snappy "Tackle That Temptation With A Time Step" and the twangy Western tune, "I Could Have Gone To Nashville."

The best song and the most rousing is the hand-clapping number "Holier Than Thou," which director Daniel L. McDonald has chosen to downplay rather than make it the show stopper it should be.

The play is slapstick and the genre needs bigger than life, broad treatment, a galloping pace and split-second timing. As staged by McDonald, the show is entertaining, but it lacks the qualities stated above. Because of its flimsy framework, individual performances have to be outstanding.

McDonald has double cast the five nun roles. On the night we viewed the show, Christine Darchiocourt was Sister Mary Regina, the Reverend Mother, Dottie Mach was Sister Mary Hubert, Cristina Colussi was Sister Robert Anne, Dawn Bennett was Sister Mary Amnesia, and Jill Austin was Sister Mary Leo.

As individual acts, the cast disappoints except for Darchiocourt, who delights as the usually conservative Mother Superior. Colussi does not convince enough as the former wild, tough girl from Brooklyn. Her solo number, "I Just Want To Be A Star," should be raucous and it isn't.

Bennett, as the nun who lost her memory, fails to imbue the role with the loveable kookiness of this very eccentric character, and her big Nashville number (though technically good) lacked real spirit.

But as an ensemble the five work pretty well together and succeed in creating some funny moments and good song sequences.

*

An original musical, "Tapered in the Back," by T.L.C. Green, directed by Sam Wilson, is being presented by the Arena Players through Sunday. The theme of this philosophical show is that young black men are not being the best they can be. Education is everything.

The setting is a barbershop owned by wise old Hop, well played by Oswald Copeland. The story takes place in the fall of 1972 and concludes in January 1990. The title refers to the haircuts a promising medical student receives through the years as he learns about life through his visits to the shop.

The fine, rhythmic music under the excellent direction of Tony Perkins changes with the years. The problem with this play is the absence of structure. There is too much talk about what is happening (with songs thrown in) but we never see the action.

The vocals are not well executed, which is a real distraction. Green has a good idea here but it has to be restructured.

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