nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
June 16, 2010
When I was growing up in Newark, New Jersey, there was this movie that I didn't admit to anyone that I ever watched, but secretly would put on all the time. It wasn't a classic, it wasn't an Oscar winner, it was titled Teen Witch, and it was one of the gayest movies ever. (I mean gayest in the "I'm a 13-year-old-boy-in-the-closet" sorta gay.)
Watching the 25th anniversary revival of Nunsense, playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre, gave me the exact same feeling. I was that kid in the closet having a gay old time. Yes, I wasn't probably going to go shout from the rooftops, Go SEE Nunsense! But, I could already tell I was going to come see it again!
And that's because Nunsense is, pardon the pun, absolutely divine! And at 25, this youngling is still a hard habit to break!
Of course, if you know theatre, you know this musical sensation from the '80s. The show's plot line is pretty simple: Nunsense is the story of five nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken, who put on a revue to raise the funds to bury four of their dead sisters, who are in the freezer waiting to meet their heavenly father. It's got the potential to be pretty cliche stuff, but what Nunsense has is the obvious love of its creator, who has managed to turn the property into a franchise. I am not familiar with the extensive library of shows, but I am going to speculate that there's really nothing like the original. Because this original is really something else: It's wonderful, it's cheesy, it's guffaw-inducing, and for those of us who are less cynical, it has a huge naive heart that believes in the magic of theatre as a way to bring a room together in laughter. I believe, alleluia, I believe.
I knew of the show and because of my propensity to be skeptical given the amount of theatre I see a year, I brought a date. My best friend's husband! I brought him, because I had heard stories of his Catholicism, and I also brought him 'cause I thought it would be a good way to bond. And when a show can magically turn two basic strangers into fast friends, you know there's something there. And that's why Nunsense works so well, it has the soul of a child at play in the sandbox, and you can't help but want to hug the world when you leave the theatre. Tommy, my best friend's husband, was in stitches, and I often got more of a kick out of his reactions to some of the jokes than to the jokes themselves.
Because the jokes can sometimes be predictable, this show can only be as strong as the cast that delivers its lines, and this cast is a winner. Bonnie Lee as Reverend Mother Superior plays the role with energy and aplomb, and while you at first doubt that she can pull it off, by the end of the first act, which ends with Reverend Mother getting high on Rush Poppers, she has turned the role into a hysterical tour de force. Every actress gets their time to shine, with Bambi Jones bringing her spirited soul, Maria Montana her gorgeous vaudevillian vocal quality, Jeanne M. Tinker becoming the beating heart of the show, and Stephanie Wahl bringing the kind of stage charisma that draws the eye to her whether she's doing something or not.
The musical numbers are all for the most part top-notch, with the opening number "Nunsense is Habit Forming" being the catchiest. Every song serves a purpose, but it's not until the second act that the songs gain an extra layer of meaning, as the nuns settle in, and get a little bit more personal. I have to say "Growing up Catholic" and "I Could've Gone to Nashville" are two surprisingly heart-warming songs.
A show like Nunsense, with its marketable history, has a good chance of attracting the tourists and the musical theatre fans. But if you think you're too cool for a musical like this, believe me, you are not. No one is too cool for laughter, and in a world that often times seems to be falling apart around us, maybe you can say a prayer and sing a little song, but how about spending it with your fellow humans inside a theatre laughing for a couple of hours. Surely, there's something holy in that!