Hilarity in holy setting

Sisterhood: The informal atmosphere of Chesapeake Music Hall in Annapolis lends itself well to `Nunsense.'

January 20, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you want high comedy, you might follow Shakespeare's advice and "get thee to a nunnery" -- the one at Chesapeake Music Hall where "Nunsense" is playing until Feb. 13. Besides providing plenty of laughs, the Little Sisters of Hoboken make you feel like a child again, especially if you spent part of your childhood in Catholic schools.

Dan Goggin's 1984 comic hit tells the hilarious tale of nuns who put on a show to raise funds to bury four of their colleagues temporarily stored in the freezer. Convent chef Sister Julia, Child of God served a lethal vichyssoise that poisoned 52 nuns, with 48 receiving burials before funds ran out.

In Chesapeake Music Hall's production, all five members of the cast are believable as nuns and immediately involve the audience in the action, whipping up enthusiasm and drawing them into their comic schemes. The size of the cast and the scope of the show seem well suited to the Music Hall's informal environment.

From the moment she appears on stage, Carol Cohen convinces the audience that she is the all-seeing, all-knowing Sister Mary Regina whose penetrating gaze takes in everyone in the room, her X-ray vision focusing on their every thought.

Cohen inspires our reverence with her commanding presence while she also invokes our laughter as she becomes the frustrated tightrope walker moving in her rubber-jointed way. The daughter of Flying Wallenda-like tightrope walkers, Sister Mary is both a no-nonsense head of the convent and a desperate actress waiting for her chance to star.

Cohen's superb acting skills are showcased in "Turn Up the Spotlight" as she conveys Sister Mary's fierce desire to star while revealing the high spirits hidden beneath her proper exterior.

Mary Armour-Kaiser plays Sister Mary Robert Anne, the street-wise nun with a delinquent past. As an adolescent, the sister was housed in a convent, where she found security in the ritual of the Latin Mass, which Armour-Kaiser describes in her heartfelt "Growing Up Catholic." Her mischievousness add to the intensity of her fury at being a stand-in as she sings "Playing Second Fiddle."

She pulls out all the stops in her joyous "I Just Want to Be a Star," which Armour-Kaiser undoubtedly is. She is a riot as she manipulates her wimple, transforming herself into Pocahontas, Pippi Longstocking and Princess Leia.

As Sister Mary Amnesia, Pamela Peach makes a memorable Music Hall debut. A skilled comedian and actress, Peach also possesses a terrific voice that is displayed to full advantage in "So You Want to Be a Nun," a duet she sings with a puppet. She is so skilled in conveying every facet of this show's most sympathetic character that I look forward to seeing what Peach can do in other roles.

Another fine voice belongs to Scotti Preston, who plays Sister Mary Hubert with panache. Exuding a nice blend of warmth and wisdom, Preston is riveting in her musical numbers -- with Cohen in "Just a Coupl'a Sisters" and in a gospel solo of "Holier Than Thou" that shakes the rafters.

Danielle Treuberg plays Sister Mary Leo and proves she can dance well in addition to more than holding her own vocally in solo numbers "Benedicite" and "Lilacs Bring Back Memories." Treuberg sings as part of the ensemble in just about every number. In her third Music Hall show, Treuberg again adds a special luster to her role.

It is noteworthy that Chesapeake Music Hall keeps discovering talented new performers who add new dimensions to the overall quality of each production. Peach, Preston and Treuberg would be welcome additions to any roster of players.

Once again Sherry Kay deserves praise for her work as director, producer, choreographer and costume designer. Kay seems to have an unerring sense of what Music Hall audiences enjoy, as she picks another winner. Music director Anita O'Connor knows how to display superb voices to full advantage.

The folks at the Music Hall have raised prices to $32.50 for Friday and Saturday evenings and $29.50 for Sunday and Wednesday matinees.

Reservations: 410-626-7515 or 1-800-406-0306. Information: www.chesapeakemusichall.com.

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