MILWAUKEE - ”Nunsense” is a good title for this musical. It does feature nuns not making much sense, but having some fun in the process while entertaining us along the way. Because nuns used to live a fairly cloistered life, there has always been an air of mystery about them. Often the authors who write about them have limited inside knowledge of their lifestyle, so there is a lot of speculation going on.
They are often portrayed as too pious, too na•ve, too mean, or too silly, rather than as the diverse group of women they are. Having been educated by them from age 5 through 21 myself, I’ve often thought they were mischaracterized as a group. But since stereotypes have some truth and some misrepresentation in them, pieces like “Nunsense” are born.
Five very talented vocalists comprise the cast, and just hearing them sing is worth a visit to Stackner, even though the plot of the story is short on credibility.
Sister Julia, the cook at the convent of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, accidentally poisoned 52 members of their community, and now the remaining five are trying to raise money to bury them all properly. Four remaining corpses are being detained in the freezer because Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina, spent the money on a larger TV set.
So in order to raise the needed funds, they decide to put on a variety show. In the process, we begin to see them as individuals, each with their own story and personality.
Mother Superior tries to keep her tiny flock in line, but she’s not as tough as she pretends. Melody Betts does a good job of balancing this dichotomy of strictness and understanding. Her “Turn Up the Spotlight” reveals her past as a circus performer.
Sister Robert Anne, rambunctiously played by Kelley Faulkner, always wanted to be a performer, but she felt “the calling” and became a nun instead. Her solos reflect her former dreams in “I Just Want to Be a Star” and in the tune “Second Fiddle,” which she never wanted to be.
Sister Mary Amnesia has forgotten her real name after a crucifix fell on her head, so they have given her this one. Veronica Garza has such a wonderfully vacant look on her face that she definitely gets the most laughs. Something wonderful happens as she is singing “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” and she suddenly remembers that she is really Sister Mary Paul, which proves to be a lucky name in the end. She also amuses us with her puppet number.
Sister Hubert, the second in charge as Novice Mistress, frequently corrects Sister Mary Leo, played by Candace Thomas, the newest member of the community on “nunly” decorum. This new novice had a desire to be a ballet dancer, but Sister Regina stops her histrionics in her performance for the variety show.
Sister Hubert, nicely rendered by Lachrisa Grandberry, shines in her duet with Mother Superior in “Just a Coup’la Sisters” and in the trio, “Drive In,” along with Sister Robert and Sister Mary Leo, in a simulation of The Andrew Sisters.
Their grand composite finale brings us to our feet as they combine their melodic strengths in “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” “Holier than Thou” and the reprise of “Nunsense.”
Playwright Dan Goggin and Director Malkia Stampley managed to humanize the nuns after all, and those four poor frozen nuns soon found their rightful place in hallowed ground. Amen.
The musical comedy runs through Jan. 12 in the Stackner Cabaret Theatre, 108 E. Wells St. , Milwaukee . Call 414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.