"Nunsensations: The Nunsense Las Vegas Revue" is probably the perfect summer production for the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. It is warm, fuzzy, unrelentingly sweet, professionally crafted but with nothing too raunchy — suitable for family audiences and those visiting relatives who might be easily shocked or bored with Shakespeare.
The show uses a familiar formula, created by writer Dan Goggin in his original hit, "Nunsense" — five nuns garbed in traditional black and white habits, singing and dancing their way through energetic Broadway-type musical numbers, interspersed with some corny humor, affectionate "Catholic" jokes and noninvasive audience participation.
The premise in "Nunsensations" does stretch this formula a bit. The Little Sisters of Hoboken have been offered a $10,000 contribution to the parish school if the nuns will perform in Las Vegas. Since it is a sizable donation and the Mother Superior has been assured that "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," the nuns are soon strutting with feathers and fans (over their habits), and musing about their pre-convent show business pasts.
Carrying off this sort of slightly dated nonsense depends on finding the right chemistry of cast, director and choreographer. OCT has brought back Melissa Rain Anderson, who did such a good job with the "The Marvelous Wonderettes," to direct and choreograph and then cast five accomplished women performers as the nuns. Anderson keeps the action moving briskly, gives each nun individuality and manages to combine a bit of both "Chorus Line" and Ziegfeld Follies in her dance routines.
In his original production, "Nunsense," author Goggin gave each nun a backstory. For example, the Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina (Ellie Holt-Murray), came from a family of circus performers. She dedicated herself to God when her hefty parents fell during their tightrope act and were saved through her prayers — though she did have a brief fling as a Las Vegas showgirl prior to entering the convent. Holt-Murray, a classically trained opera performer teaching voice at Southern Oregon University's Department of Performing Arts, is positively delicious as she conveys the gravitas of the senior nun relishing memories of her days of feathers and tassels ("The Fifth From the Right").
Sister Robert Anne (Kymberli Colbourne, recently seen in OCT's "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline"), is an outspoken ex-juvenile delinquent from Brooklyn. You can take Robert Anne out of the 'hood, but some Brooklyn always remains. Colbourne's shtick begins 45 minutes before each performance, when Sister Robert Anne conducts a lively audience participation game of bingo, complete with biblically referenced numbers. ("I-37: Immaculate Conception 37"). All of this is improvised and Colbourne never misses a beat or falls out of character.
Cabaret veteran Suzanne Seiber plays the wistful dancing nun, Sister Mary Leo. She yearns to earn money for the order through dance, but her auditions are stymied by Reverend Mother's dictum that she always wear her habit. Seiber's genuine warmth and charm lends credibility to what otherwise would be an absurd situation. (Seiber, who teaches dance at SOU, co-choreographed the show with Anderson.)
Laura Derocher, so successful in Camelot Theatre's "Spotlight on Linda Ronstadt" production, plays Sister Mary Amnesia, who, when she regains her memory, realizes she is really Sister Mary Paul, a budding Nashville star. Derocher has a gorgeous voice, does a fine job with the ditzy sister ("What's Black & White With Her Money on Red?") but gets bogged down in Goggin's awkward inclusion of a ventriloquist number using an irreverent puppet called Sister Mary Annette.
The real scene-stealer here is Alexandra Blouin as the second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert. Blouin juggles and does a few well-placed cartwheels (she trained at the Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif., and is an accomplished circus performer and clown), but she really can belt out a song, especially in the show's two big and splashy musical numbers, "When the Chips Are Down," a doo-wop extravaganza, and the finale, "T.T.M. 'n' R.," a take-off on the Village People, complete with headgear.
Craig Hudson provided an appropriately Vegas-style flashy set for all this razz-ma-tazz and, somehow, Kerri Lea Robbins artfully combined lots of feathers and glitz with traditional nun's habits. Meagan Iverson is musical director.
"Nunsensations, The Nunsense Vegas Revue" plays at the Cabaret through Aug. 25. For further information, contact the box office by phone at 541-488-2902 or online at www.oregoncabaret.com.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.