Dallas — Christmas shows are a staple of theater and for good reason. They typically do so well in box office terms that they can often help pay for other shows in the season. Uptown Players has chosen to take on Dan Goggin’s Nuncrackers A-Men! for December. Goggin is behind the massive cash-cow Nunsense, which has spawned many sequels and gets performed by theaters all over the world.
The “a-MEN” in the title is to clue you in that the nuns will be played by men – perfect for Uptown, a professional LGBT theater well experienced in gender-bending.
The Mount St. Helens Convent in New Jersey has just completed their studios for their cable access station, and they are putting on their Christmas special. The show-within-a-show trope works well here and pushes the action along. You can’t help but pull for these well-meaning nuns as things start to fall apart on air. This show has a small cast of men as nuns and a group of exuberant kids who are often saner than the adults. An especially funny running gag is that Sister Mary Paul (Trey Tolleson), nicknamed Sister Amnesia, has formed the kids into a choir and they keep singing the wrong lyrics to famous Christmas carols. No spoilers here; but they are quite cute.
Directed by Dennis Canright and with choreography by Trevor Wright, Nuncrackers pokes fun at Catholic stereotypes about nuns and priests, but it’s cleverer as a look at a group of people trying to put on a variety or holiday show. Father Virgil getting rum-drunk in an infomercial filmed live during the show within a show is a highlight. And as you can probably guess from the Nuncrackers part of the title, there’s an attempt at The Nutcracker, which has the audience in stiches. There’s also a hilarious YMCA-styled number you’ll just have to see to believe.
Goggin wrote most of the music in the show and some of it works, but other numbers fall flat. I would have loved some more traditional Christmas tunes peppered in. The band, led by musical directors Michael Ptacin and Adam C. Wright, sounds great and leads the energetic and exuberant cast through their numbers.
Standout performances are Tolleson as Sister Mary Paul (Amnesia) and Sonny Franks as the drunken Father Vigil. Mikey Abrams is quite funny as Sister Robert Anne and her puppet, the aptly named Sister Mary Annette, is amusing, as are his many Jersey-isms. The cast also features Duke Anderson, Jude Baremore, Gabriel Ethridge, Alyson Greif, Maya Michalski, Randy Pearlman, and Summer Stern.
Nuncrackers A-Men! is a laugh-filled frolic — don’t go looking for substance; it’s not Gifts of the Magi. As usual with Uptown, production values are top-notch. You’ll wish that the act of “putting on a show” was this easy — not to mention as fun.