It makes sense to bring nuns back in comedy sequel

Reincarnation: The Little Sisters of Hoboken prove just as funny in "Nunsense II" as in the original production at Chesapeake Music Hall.

January 18, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I saw my first "Nunsense" at Chesapeake Music Hall in January last year, and a repeat in November, as part of the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum's subscription series. Now, with the music hall's "Nunsense II, The Second Coming," these nuns have become a habit with me.

Master punster, playwright, composer-lyricist Dan Goggin introduced "Nunsense" in 1985. Its success - playing almost constantly in New York and on the road - persuaded him to write the sequel, first produced in 1993.

Goggin returns to Mount St. Helen's High School with characters who could hardly be improved upon: his five Little Sisters of Hoboken, Rev. Mother Sister Mary Regina; her second-in-command, Sister Mary Hubert; the spirited convent driver, Sister Mary Robert; sweet and graceful Sister Mary Leo; and lovable, wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, also known as Sister Mary Paul.

In this highly interactive show, the dinner theater's cast immediately involves audience members, welcoming them as if they were returning Mount St. Helen's alumni, encouraging them to wave their arms and shout like Ravens fans. Even "Nunsense" novices felt at home, as they were given a fast, hilarious recapitulation of the Little Sisters of Hoboken history.

The story was told of those 52 nuns who ate tainted soup and died and were buried, except for the five "blue nuns" stashed in the freezer whose burial awaited funds from a benefit performance. The nuns' five-star variety show raised the money, and at the end Sister Mary Amnesia regains her memory and realizes she is Sister Mary Paul.

In "Nunsense II," Sister Mary Paul, portrayed by Sue Belle, has discovered she is the winner of the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, and the nuns are planning a second variety show thank-you benefit to be held in the gym that now features a "Mikado" set.

The sisters have gained some show business savvy. The Rev. Mother (Carol Cohen) is more adamant about being "numero uno," asserting it often to Sister Mary Hubert (Jessica Hyman), who has a few ideas of her own.

Cohen, returning to the role at Chesapeake Music Hall, proves she all but owns the part - by turns side-splittingly funny, as in the number "I've Got Pizzazz," and touching, as in "Look, Ma, I Made It."

Another tribute: My parochial school-educated companion was amazed at Cohen's uncanny ability to seem the image of her New Jersey high school mother superior.

CMH's other returning star nun, Mary Armour-Kaiser, an adorable sprite in her nun's habit, might be even better this time as Sister Mary Robert. In one number, she appropriates the half-moon "Mikado" bridge for a hilarious spoof of Madame Butterfly's "Un Bel Di Vedremo," complete with her hands clutching at her own throat in a goofy hari-kari takeoff.

Belle's Mary Amnesia has fun and a rapport with the audience. She is pure, down-home country in red-tipped boots and cowboy hat, singing "The Country Nun" with her sassy puppet Sister Annette supplying sharp counterpoint. And Belle delivers a compelling "No One Cared Like You."

As Sister Mary Leo, skilled dancer Kristi Ambrosetti is a standout in the funny "Padre Polka," and on roller skates in an amusing "Prima Ballerina."

Making her CMH debut as Sister Mary Hubert, Towson University freshman Hyman proves she can hold her own with this stellar cast. A skilled comedian and fine singer, Hyman brings to rocking life, "What Would Elvis Do," and gives genuine gospel feeling to "There's Only One Way to End Your Prayers."

Adding sparkle to the performance are musicians Ronnie Schronce on drums and Hallie Viniotis on piano, who alternates shows with pianist Anita O'Connor.

"The Second Coming" continues on weekends through Feb. 18. For tickets, call the box office at 410-626-7515 or 800-406-0306 to order tickets.

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