The novelty surrounding the gimmick of male actors playing nuns in “Nunsense A.men,” was short-lived, thanks to the superior talent of a cast that made them thoroughly believable as women. A spin-off of the original Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense,” which premiered off-Broadway in the 1985 — the musical comedy, presented by Theatre On The Square on Mass Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, opened Friday Sept. 13 and continues through Oct. 12. Examiner.com was present for Sunday’s matinee performance.
Expertly directed by Ron Spencer, who was also choreographer, “Nunsense A.men,” featured Carl Cooper (Sister Mary Regina), Ramon Hutchins (Sister Humbert), Nathan Jones (Sister Mary Amnesia), Robert Kingery (Sister Leo) and Thom Turner (Sister Robert Ann).
Anybody of a certain age will enjoy this affectionate valentine to the women who served as Catholic school teaching nuns and wore the traditional habit prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. The humor comes from watching religious women who are supposed to be solemn and pious cutting up and even being naughty at times. At the same time, those who did not grow up in that particular era and even those of other faiths — not familiar with Catholicism, its rituals or customs —will enjoy the show for its slapstick, vaudeville, and good-natured jokes.
The deliciously absurd plot of “Nunsense A.men,” revolves around five of the 19 surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken. They discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally killed the other 52 residents of the convent with tainted vichyssoise. Upon discovering the calamity, Mother Superior decides to start a greeting card company to raise funds for the burials. The greeting cards were an enormous success and, thinking there was plenty of money, the Reverend Mother bought a Blue-Ray DVR player for the convent, leaving her no money to pay for the last four burials. With the dead nuns on hold in the deep freeze, the five nuns decide to stage a variety show in the Mount Saint Helen's School auditorium to raise the necessary funds. The set for the nun’s show just happens to that being used by the school for their student production of the musical “Grease.”
Each member of the cast, all of whom were equally proficient at acting, dancing and singing — with superb vocals overseen by music/vocal director Roger Smith — had their own special moments in the spotlight.
Cooper as Sister Mary Regina was superb at capturing the stern Mother Superior, making it all the more hilarious when his character discovers a bottle of Rush (amyl nitrate or “poppers”) and proceeds to inhale it contents. Upon doing so, the otherwise staid and no-nonsense authoritarian completely loses control and transforms into a silly goofball. It was a side-splitting performance by Cooper, who excelled at the physical comedy of depicting his character as she undergoes hot flashes and complete inhibition.
Ramon Hutchins, as Mother Superior’s right hand nun, was spectacular in the gospel-flavored “Holier Than Thou,” a celebratory tune his character sings once the nuns find a way out of their financial dilemma and one which roused the small, yet lively audience.
Robert W. Kingery, a graduate of the New York Musical and Dramatic Academy, making his return to the stage after a three-year audience, demonstrated his exemplary professional training in a well-drawn characterization of Sister Leo, a sweet postulant who dreams of being the first nun ballerina. Dancing en pointe, the tall and lanky Kingery was beautifully graceful during “Benedicte,” and when he comically danced with a dead pan expression in “The Dying Nun Ballet.”
Thom Turner, who played the brash Sister Robert Anne, the understudy who yearns for a solo in the nun’s show, infused his street-wise character with the right mix of bravado and chutzpah and showed charisma as he performed “I Just Want to Be a Star.” It was unfortunate however, that Turner’s Brooklyn accent lacked authenticity nor was it consistent.
Nathan Jones was appealing and charming as clueless Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. He showed comic flair in scenes during which his character, ruler in hand, gives the audience a quiz and later when she performs with a puppet. Jones’ performance, however, also suffered from an inconsistency. When Sister Mary Amnesia tells the audience about who she would be if she weren’t a nun, in “I Could Have Gone to Nashville,” it was difficult to believe that she could have been a country music singer considering that Jones failed to capture the style and sound of the genre.
Overall, however, the cast of “Nunsense A.men,” accompanied by a fine trio consisting of Roger Smith on keyboards, David Dean on bass and keyboard, and percussionist Jim Eads, represented a well-oiled ensemble that was replete with both winning individual and collective performances.
Hopefully, once word spreads, this highly entertaining and uplifting effort may well turn out to be one of the most popular and well attended shows of Indy’s brand new theater season.
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