“We’re here to prove that nuns are fun … and a bit risqué.”
The Little Sisters of Hoboken start “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical” with that musical promise … and the Alliance Theatre of Clifton’s cast makes it come totally true.
It seems that the Little Sisters are putting on the show to raise money for the burial of four other sisters, whose bodies are languishing in the freezer. Starting with that preposterous premise, the cast displays its comic timing to perfection. At the same time, their lively ensemble numbers are enhanced by their singing and dancing skills.
The most laughable — and lovable — figure of all may be Sister Mary Amnesia (Annie Ermlick), who lost her memory when a crucifix hit her on the head. Her constant radiant smile keeps the audience grinning in response.
When she moved through the audience on opening night, handing out St. Christopher cards with the motto, “In case of an accident, call a priest,” her sweetness and silliness showed through. Asking one recipient if he was a Catholic, he replied that he was an atheist, bringing forth the most dazzling smile of all — strongly suggesting that her amnesia had come to her rescue.
Audience participation also includes the nuns’ march down the aisle asking for donations, which actually go to the American Cancer Society. More than $100 was raised this way that night.
Sister Amnesia’s most memorable moment came when she played her part in the program by performing as a ventriloquist, who had named her potty-mouthed hand puppet (what else?) Sister Mary Annette. (All right, so a hand puppet is not a marionette, but the audience laughed at the pun all the same).
Sister Robert Anne (Lori Muhlstein) also won laughs, as the streetwise nun from Brooklyn (who boasts that she can drive the Reverend Mother’s car … or strip it). Fighting to rise from her understudy status, she wins both cheers and laughter by showing up in full witch’s costume, before she collapses dramatically while moaning, “I’m melting … I’m melting!” “What do you think this is, ‘Wicked’?” the Reverend Mother demands in reply.
Since “Nunsense” first was performed in 1985 and “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” made its debut in 2003, this joke is one of the updates that were made to the script. They also include Sister Robert Anne’s impersonation of Honey Boo Boo.
Almost all of the sisters take turns in confessing their show business backgrounds, in a manner reminiscent of the 1975 musical hit, “A Chorus Line.”
Sister Mary Leo (Becca Harney), who aspires to become the first nun ballerina, wins laughter with her satirical solo “The Dying Nun.” Of course, much of the credit for that daffy dance goes to the choreographer, Cathy Arnold.
Even the stern Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Holly Czuchna), reveals that she longs to become a tightrope walker, like her parents before her.
At the same time, her second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert (Rianke Krugel) shares her secret ambition to found her own order. Her constant bouncy, bubbly enthusiasm is part of the fun.
Indeed, audiences have been having fun with the play since it first opened off-Broadway. It became the second-longest-running show (following “The Fantasticks”) and has inspired six sequels, including “Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical.”
Alliance Theatre co-producer Michelle Bogert summarizes the Nun-sensical appeal by saying, “When I mention that we are doing it, people say, “’That’s great, I love that show.’”
It must be said, however, that some of the jokes are more than “a bit risqué” … downright raunchy, in fact. Bogert and her co-producer Maggie Swan described it as an “amusing adult musical,” and the emphasis should be on the “adult.”
Also, management warns the audience to wear warm clothing, since the theater can get downright cold. Seat cushions are sold in the lobby, for use on the wooden chairs. But judging by the smiles that were seen during intermission and after the show, the audience didn’t seem to mind.