Encore Michigan

Riverbank’s ‘Nunsense’ is habit forming

Review May 06, 2019 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–The Little Sisters of Hoboken are in a jam: a majority of their convent has perished from a terrible case of botulism, and they ran out of money before all the departed were buried—four of them are still in the freezer until the remaining sisters can raise more money.

The result is Nunsense, a comical, musical look at the variety show the sisters have put together as a fundraiser, playing at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City. 

Created by Michigander Dan Goggin and under the direction of Aaron Dennis Smith, a cast of five takes on the roles of the Reverend Mother (Colleen Everitt), Sister Mary Hubert (JM Ethridge), Sister Robert Anne (Amanda Rae Evans), Sister Mary Amnesia (Carrie Muesling) and Sister Mary Leo (Emily Holth). While in agreement about their goal for the fundraiser, their personalities present a challenge in how to execute the show.

The Reverend Mother tries to quell her own desire to be in the spotlight, instilled in her as a child by her family of tightrope walkers. She spends the rest of her time attempting to keep the others on a “sisterly” path—not an easy task.  Streetwise Sister Robert Anne is from Brooklyn, and sometimes lets out a comment that is unseemly for a nun.  Sister Mary Leo is a young novice who still harbors the dream of becoming the first nun ballerina.  Sassy Sister Mary Hubert trains the novices, but never lets Reverend Mother get too comfortable.  They all take turns keeping tabs on Sister Mary Amnesia, who tends to wander off or forget where she is supposed to be.

The standard jokes of convent living are present of course, and the first few numbers are consumed with typical opening fanfare and exposition.  The humor ramps up midway through Act I when Sister Mary Amnesia takes to the stage with her puppet sidekick, “Sister Mary Annette,” who is less restrained in her language than her human counterpart (“So You Want To Be A Nun”). The show goes off the rails a bit when they learn the four departed sisters in the freezer are about to be discovered by the health inspector, and Sister Robert Anne finds an illicit substance left behind in the girls’ bathroom.  When Reverend Mother naively inspects the substance she becomes hilariously impaired, and the other four must throw in an impromptu number and get her off the stage.

Sister Robert Anne, previously relegated to “understudy” status, is thrilled to step in for the temporarily incapacitated Reverend Mother, who eventually sobers up. The nuns present an entertaining number in the style of the Andrews Sisters (“The Drive-In”) before showing a convent home video (which cleverly features the theatre’s premier sponsors).  When Sister Mary Amnesia finds herself onstage alone, she decides to tell a story which jolts her memory, at the same time reminding her who she really is and solving the convent’s money problems! The sisters rejoice and thank God, climaxing the show with a rousing, high energy gospel style number (“Holier Than Thou”).

One of the fun aspects of this show is that it is interactive with the audience.  Sister Mary Amnesia conducts a quiz early in the show, complete with prizes for the correct answers. The sisters address particular audience members before and during the show; they also address the musicians, who are visibly placed at the rear of the set.

Since the set, costumes, lighting and sound on this show are pretty basic, the performances are rightfully highlighted as the strength of this production.  While all cast members are vocally strong in both solo and ensemble numbers, the vocal stand-out seems to be Carrie Muesling as Sister Mary Amnesia, who lends a sweet and innocent air to her operatic style while making it sound effortless. For comedic delivery, the mention must go to Colleen Everitt for her uproarious extended scene of the impaired Reverend Mother.

This show is generally suitable for most audiences, despite a couple instances of mild four- letter words the nuns let slip. Those with a background in Catholic church or school will find special meaning in some of the humor, but most will find themselves clapping along at the end.

Nunsense runs at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City through June 2, 2019.