• Theater Review: Breathing new life into ‘Nunsense’
    By Jim Lowe
     | May 05,2013
    Northern Stage photo

    The Little Sisters of Hoboken — from left, Amanda Ryan Paige, Lisa Raggio, Sandy Rosenberg, Emily Stockdale and Charis Leos — are raising money to bury fellow nuns killed by tainted vichyssoise.

    “Nunsense,” Dan Goggin’s spoof of Catholic nuns, premiered in 1985, becoming the second-longest running off-Broadway musical.

    Since that time, it has spawned a movie, six sequels and three spinoffs — and now is relegated largely to community theater.

    Along comes Northern Stage to reclaim it for the professionals — opening a thoroughly entertaining production of this somewhat dated but terribly fun musical Friday at Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

    Northern Stage, Vermont’s largest budget professional theater, has been in turmoil since parting ways with its founding artistic director, Brooke Wetzel Ciardelli, last fall, and its subsequent productions clearly reflected that. (“Race,” the only exception, was actually produced by Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, N.Y.)

    “Nunsense” marks Northern Stage’s first entirely successful production since Ciardelli’s unfortunate departure.

    “Nunsense” is a charming musical, with just a touch of bawdiness. The plot centers on a benefit cabaret presented by the five remaining Little Sisters of Hoboken to pay for the burial of the other members of the order — all killed by tainted vichyssoise.

    In short, it’s an excuse for a song-and-dance series of Catholic jokes, but it is fun.

    Catherine Doherty, Northern Stage’s producing director, is an expert at this kind of musical comedy, milking it for all it’s worth. But she also delivers the silliness with polish and split-second timing — and a first-rate cast, excellent singers and dancers all.

    Sandy Rosenburg, Sister Mary Regina, the mother superior, performed with a rich Irish brogue and a wry wit. Charis Leos, a natural comedian, was a riot as Sister Mary Hubert, who, as number two, is always undermining the boss.

    Lisa Raggio was nearly poignant (not easy in this kind of musical) as Sister Robert Anne, who fought her way out of the streets of Brooklyn and into the convent. Amanda Ryan Paige is charming as Sister Mary Amnesia, who is constantly mixing things up. And Emily Stockdale gives Sister Mary Leo the innocence of the novice she is — plus a little unexpected fun.

    Joel Mercier, the music director, led the excellent pit band in the effervescent score, with excellent choreography by John Jacob Lee. The slick set was by Carl Tallent, lit by Ben Fichtorn, with costumes by Anna Winter, all resulting in a most polished production.

    “Nunsense” may be dated, but Northern Stage certainly has fun with it.

    Northern Stage

    Northern Stage presents “Nunsense,” the classic off-Broadway musical comedy by Dan Goggin, May 1-19 at Briggs Opera House, Main Street in White River Junction. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, plus 2 p.m. matinees Thursday, May 9, and Saturday, May 18. For tickets or information, call 802-296-7000, or go online to www.northernstage.org.

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