REVIEW:”Nunsense” at the Theater Barn

by Gail M. Burns

As a theatre critic I am required to roll my eyes when a Nunsense show (there are nearly ten of them) is mentioned. The first iteration, currently playing at The Theater Barn, is 32 years old, and its age is beginning to show. But I still secretly relish the opportunities these shows provide for talented actresses who are no longer ingénues to strut their stuff.

If you have managed to avoid the Nunsense franchise until now, I will give you a quick synopsis. Dozens of members of the Little Sisters of Hobken, housed at Mount Saint Helen’s Convent, have died as a result of some bad Vichyssoise concocted by their convent cook, Sr. Julia Child of God. The remaining sisters have managed to bury all but four of their late comrades (they are stashed in the freezer and a visit from the health inspector is looming), but the sisters have run out of money so they decide to put on a variety show to raise the necessary cash.

Thus we find Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Amy Feibke); Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of the Novices (Connor Wayne Milam); streetwise Sister Robert Anne, the convent’s bus driver and mechanic (Courtney Silber); Sister Mary Leo, a balletically inclined novice (Katie Luke); and poor, befuddled Sister Mary Amnesia, robbed of her memory when conked on the head by a crucifix (Liane Zielinski), taking the stage. They are backed by musical director Alan Schlichting on piano, Ian Tucksmith on drums, and Adam Peterson on bass. All three musicians are wearing the collar and kibbutz gently with the cast on several occasions.

The humor is very broad, corny jokes abound, and the style is vaudeville all the way. In the course of the show we learn that all but Sister Mary Hubert have had careers or ambitions in show business, explaining their abilities to tap dance and belt out showstoppers at the drop of a veil, but each also takes time to reminisce about their calling and the joy they find in their vocation, which leavens the silliness and opens a window into these women’s hearts.

Director Marc de la Concha has assembled a very talented, although quite young, cast, with the exception of Feibke’s more mature (well, most of the time) Mother Superior.  Zielinski is a stand out vocally, especially in her big Act I number “So You Want to be a Nun” which requires her to sing in several different voices and styles in rapid succession. She is also amusingly goggle-eyed at the world she so mysteriously finds herself in.

Luke dances nicely en pointe and her “Dying Nun” solo is delightful. Silber is a little too gentle, but nonetheless winning as Robert Anne, and Milam doesn’t come into her own until the finale when she joyfully leads the cast in “Holier Than Thou.” Milam is the cast member who is obviously too young for her role, but she was a last minute replacement for an injured older actress, so the fault is neither hers nor de la Concha’s, nor the good lady who was injured!

Often the Theater Barn brings in a bunch of talented young singer/actors who play various roles in all three of their back-to-back musical productions – this year Godspell 2012 and Guys and Dolls follow Nunsense – and I am hoping this is the case again this year. I would be delighted to see any of these ladies in a repeat performance this season.

The Mother Superior is the star turn, and I was sure that Fiebke, a local theatrical stalwart, was up to the task. Sporting quite a steady Irish accent, Fiebke asserts her authority over the other nuns – and the audience via her clicker! – and carries the show. Her monologue “under the influence” at the end of Act I is a side-splitter.

Abe Phelps has created a rather busy set – the nuns are performing on the Mount Saint Helen’s High School stage, which is set for their production of Grease – which allows the band to be onstage with the ladies which adds to the fun. The costumes are a no brainer, just call up rent-a-nun then add the flourishes, but Jade Campbell has done them well.

Be prepared for some audience interaction – there is a pop quiz fairly early on, so pay attention! – and much merriment. If you are now or have ever been Roman Catholic, or attended a Catholic school, you will undoubtedly find this twice as hilarious as the rest of us unwashed masses.

Nunsense by Dan Goggin, directed by Marc de la Concha, runs July27-August 6 at The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY. Musical director Alan Schlichting, set design by Abe Phelps, lighting design by Allen E. Phelps, costume design by Jade Campbell, stage manager Chelsea Moore. CAST: Amy Fiebke as the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina; Connor Wayne Milam as Sister Mary Hubert; Courtney Silber as Sister Robert Anne; Katie Luke as Sister Mary Leo; and Liane Lielinski as Sister Mary Amnesia.

The show runs two hours with one intermission. For tickets and more information call 518-794-8989 or visit http://www.thetheaterbarn.org

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