`Nuncrackers' is lively production

2nd Star offers a fun but human look at multidimensional sisters without making them too cartoonish

Review

November 27, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Nunsense quintet continues to kindle Christmas spirits today and next weekend in 2nd Star's Nuncrackers production at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park.

Before the show starts, the audience views an on-stage nostalgic Christmas scene complete with garland and colored lights, tinsel, candy canes and a large Christmas tree with wrapped presents beneath.

Opening with the song "Christmas Time is Nunsense Time," composer Dan Coggin instantly draws the audience into the fun. Those unfamiliar with earlier Nunsense tales will be quickly caught up by the explanation of how a little mistake in the kitchen by Sister Julia Child of God resulted in the poisoning of 52 nuns.

Reverend Mother Regina, Sister Mary Hubert, Sister Robert Anne, Sister Mary Paul (Amnesia) and Father Virgil, along with four Mount St. Helen's Convent students, prepare for the annual Christmas program. Soon the lights dim and the show turns interactive as Sister Mary Paul moves through the audience to ask goofy questions and give out prizes.

In the basement of the convent, a television studio has been set up with taping equipment purchased by the Reverend Mother with prize money won by Sister Amnesia (now Mary Paul). The main production to be televised is an original Nutcracker ballet featuring Sister Mary Leo (Father Virgil's sister) as the Sugar Plum Fairy. But before she makes her entrance, Mary Leo is accidentally hit in the shin by a baton and cannot go on.

While an alternate plan is devised to salvage the ballet, Sister Amnesia holds a "Secret Santa" drawing with the nuns engaging in humorous, often raunchy interplay plus slapstick by the cast.

The nuns' jokes are mostly funny and usually pure corn. Holding up waffles on sticks, the students sing "Here we go a-waffle-ling" instead of "wassailing." Songs about "the holly and ivory" are also accompanied by strange props.

The Reverend Mother and Father Virgil devise similar plans to salvage The Nutcracker, with each deciding to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy role with comical consequences. And strange items are promoted during the first-ever Catholic Home Shopping Service segment.

A product of eight years of Catholic education, director Jeff Hitaffer acknowledges that these Nuncracker nuns "stretch the boundaries of reality but may be sharing stories of their past before taking their vows."

Hitaffer offers a show that is superior to any Nunsense, presenting fully human, multidimensional sisters who never grow cartoonish. He moves the comedy at a rapid pace, not only drawing excellent characterizations from his cast, but exciting song and dance sequences as well.

The director is greatly assisted by choreographer Tiffany Shannon, who also played the role of Sister Mary Hubert, filling in for an ailing Amber Wright.

Most of the songs are forgettable but well-performed by music director Donald K. Smith, who plays a keyboard that supplements prerecorded musical layers simulating brass, woodwind and percussion.

Doing full justice to the music are the quintet of nuns -- Carole Long as the Reverend Mother Mary Regina, Shannon substituting as Sister Mary Hubert, Kristen Zwobot as Sister Mary Robert Anne, Debi Wynn as Amnesia (aka Sister Mary Paul) and Margaret Fadler as Sister Mary Leo. Not only does each sing well, these "Mary" nuns also are adept at dance. Kevin Buter as Father Virgil lent a warm baritone.

The students provided distinctive charm and high energy to the show, cute in their "Santa's Little Tea Pot" number and magical in Nutcracker, as Zachary Fadler became an adorable Prince to Kristin Rogers' Clara.

Nuncrackers continues at 3 p.m. today and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Information on tickets: 410-757-5700.

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