SOUTH KINGSTOWN — “Though we’re on our way to heaven, we’re here to raise some hell!” sing the Little Sisters of Hoboken in their opening number. There may be no other musical more appropriately titled than “Nunsense,” which is exactly that – a musical starring five nuns who engage in a whole lot of nonsense, proving that nuns can, in fact, be fun. But just how many jokes can be made about this stereotypically prudish, authoritarian occupation? “Nunsense” proves you can base an entire musical on them.
The award-winning, off-Broadway musical kicks off Theatre by the Sea’s 80th anniversary season, featuring five talented veterans of various productions of “Nunsense”, including Bambi Jones (Sister Mary Hubert), Christine Mild (Sister Robert Anne), Jeanne Tinker (Sister Paul, a.k.a Amnesia), Stephanie Wahl (Sister Mary Leo) and Terry Wickline (Reverend Mother Regina). With book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin, “Nunsense” started as a cabaret act in New York City and has since achieved international success and spawned six sequels.
The musical is about the five remaining Little Sisters of Hoboken who have planned a fundraising variety show at the auditorium of Mount Saint Helen’s School to pay for the burial of compatriots accidentally killed by vichyssoise prepared by their late cook, Sister Julia, Child of God (“Kinda like the last supper,” Sister Mary Hubert morbidly jokes).
With “Nunsense” you are not only a member of the audience at Theatre By The Sea, but also a member of the audience at the variety show. The audience plays a unique role, interacting with the nuns by cheering them on and answering quiz questions. At one point, Sister Robert Anne even flirts with a guy in the front row, asking him to call her (to which Reverend Mother Regina sternly warns: “I’m watching you!”).
“Nunsense” is extremely energetic, serving up slapstick humor for more than two hours. In one of the funniest scenes, Wickline masters physical comedy as Reverend Mother Regina, who accidentally gets high off a drug called Rush. Finding the bottle in a paper bag, she wonders what all the fuss is about as she takes a quick sniff. Unaware of the drug’s effect on her, she insists “It smells awful, just awful” as she quickly turns her back to the audience to sneak another hit. Eventually falling over in a fit of giggles, her robe gets stuck underneath a stool, making it appear as though she’s pregnant. “Oh, it’s a miracle!” she exclaims. It’s sheer absurdity, filled with similarly silly antics.
Beyond the physical comedy, the variety show showcases the actors’ range of talents, from choreographed chorus lines to interpretive dancing, tap dancing, ballet dancing, puppeteering and celebrity impressions. These nuns can truly do it all.
There are aspects of “Nunsense” that feel overused, like the fact that Sister Amnesia is constantly confused or the fact that Sister Robert Anne, lover of the spotlight, is unjustly cast as an understudy. To be fair, these five nuns are the only characters in the musical, so the audience is forced into an intimate study of each of their personalities. And of all the possible nuns who could be throwing this variety show, the Little Sisters of Hoboken are the best candidates for the job.
Through June 16
Tuesday through Friday, 8 p.m.
Thursday, 2 p.m.
Saturday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
$39, $49, $59
Theatre By The Sea
364 Cards Pond Road