Plano — Nunsense is one of those shows within a show, a show that starts the second audience members take their seats. The stage, at first glance, is a confusing mishmash of set dressing for the musical Grease and, well, nuns. One of these things seems not like the other, but soon the purpose is revealed: The Little Sisters of Hoboken are borrowing the stage for the evening to raise some funds to combat the tragedy that befell their poor convent at the hands of Sister Julia, Child of God’s vichyssoise soup.
It’s a funny show on its own, but the strength and charm of director and choreographer Doug Miller’s production for Brick Road Theatre lies in its cast, which features five women who embody the idea of the triple threat, performing everything from en pointe ballet to physical comedy to tap dancing. Each of the nuns gets her own moment to shine, and with each new bit the audience laughs a little harder.
Local favorite Janelle Lutz perhaps gets the loudest reactions as Sister Mary Amnesia, whether she is prompting the audience during a quiz, channeling her belt though a hand puppet, or discovering the past she lost to a crucifix upside the head. She works her showy pipes through their paces, going from an affected trill to a raspy growl to a Nashville drawl in an instant. “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville,” her big solo number, is a great showcase for her flexibility.
Sky Williams plays Sister Mary Hubert, the beleaguered Mistress of Novices, who conveys emotions with nothing more than a quirk of her expressive brow. She has a rich, clear voice that works just as well belting solo as it does rounding out the alto line of the group numbers. Her interplay with the cast—and the moments she finds for herself, even when she’s not alone onstage—are one of the highlights of her performance, as well as the larger show.
Jodi C. Wright’s Sister Robert Anne marches to the beat of her own drum, flaunting neon laces and street smarts that add pizazz to her habit. She yearns for a moment in the limelight instead of in the shadow of the Reverend Mother’s disapproval, ready to go on at a moment’s notice. Wright’s slapstick exuberance and sometimes faulty New York accent almost mask the fact that she’s an accomplished songstress with a voice that can ring the rafters, but thankfully her big songs let that talent out play.
Ivy Opdyke is reformed circus performer Reverend Mother Mary Regina, the head of this motley pack of nuns, ruling the roost while also reminiscing on her days under the big top walking the tightrope. She’s the unapologetic reason that the nuns are even in this situation—she took funds they needed and bought a plasma TV instead. Opdyke is great at playing up the strictness of the role while letting the undercurrent of her wild side bleed through at just the right moment.
The novice of the crew is Sister Mary Leo, sweetly portrayed by Shannon Ryan on loan from Oklahoma City University’s musical theater program. She’s got a lovely crystalline soprano and the skills of a seasoned hoofer, which come in handy in the role of a nun who dreams of being a ballet star—Ryan shines while dancing Kimberley Mayes’ choreography. She isn’t as accomplished an actress as the other women on the stage, but given the strength of the cast, that’s nothing to be ashamed of and gives her plenty of room to keep growing.
The crew behind Nunsense forms a solid backbone for the show, from James McQuillen’s musical direction (and an onstage bit as Father James) to H. Bart Mcgeehon’s simple but effective set to the purposefully shaky spotlights in Jason Monmaney’s lighting design. Bill Eickenloff’s sound design is seamless, as sound should be, allowing audience members to enjoy the show without having to strain to hear a line or a chorus getting blocked out by crackling mics.
On the whole, Nunsense is a farcical but fun production that passes quickly and provides a lot of laughter and heart—and you don’t even have to be Catholic to enjoy it.