Encore Michigan

‘Nunsense’ at Tibbits is…habit forming.

Review July 22, 2022 Julie Linderleaf

COLDWATER, MI–“How do you make holy water? You boil the HELL out of it!”

That’s just one of the many punny, if not actually funny, jokes that sets the tone for Tibbits Opera House’s production of the 1985 classic musical comedy musical, Nunsense.

Five actresses temporarily don the black and white habits blending their voices for a fun romp on the stage. Each “nun” has a separate storyline that all end up connecting in a happy ending for all. Novice Sister Mary Leo played by Liz Davis and Sister Mary Amnesia played by Kiersten Vorheis open the show with some impromptu greetings and welcoming the audience to their fundraiser.

The stories begin unwrapping when Sister Mary Robert Anne played by Gianna Branca opens the show instead of Tibbits Artistic Director Peter Riopelle and in her attempt at a New Jersey accent she handles all the pre-show business. She also introduces the Mother Superior Mary Regina played by Brenda Sparks and the musical begins.

Mother Superior apologizes as to why the five of the 19 surviving LittleSisters of Hoboken, New Jersey, have to use their students’ set of the musical Grease: they needed a speedy fundraiser. Originally the Order was 71-strong, but an accidental case of food-poisoning killed 52 sisters with one slurp! The nuns that are hosting only survived because they were off hosting a BINGO game.

As a way to raise money to pay for 52 burials, a greeting card company was successfully started and raised so much money that Mother superior bought a HD TV as well. The purchase unfortunately left them four funerals shy and they had to ice them… literally. The nuns were still in the freezer at the convent!

We find out their stories during the fundraiser. Running the fundraiser are Mother Superior (Sparks), who grew up in a circus and is a little too curious with a found substance; Sister Mary Hubert played by 1st-season-powerhouse vocalist Cheyanne Marie, who is the mistress of the Novices and dreams to be in charge; Sister Robert Anne (Branca), a woman with a checkered past in the big city streets who just wants a bit of the star shining limelight; Sister Mary Leo (Davis), joined the convent to be the world’s first ballerina nun; and Sister Mary Amnesia (Vorheis), who’s story is a mystery because a crucifix fell on her head. The fundraiser is a musical pageant of random songs and dance routines with a side of audience participation.

These multiple storylines come out throughout the show in fun and quirky songs and dances flawlessly directed by Matthew C. Scott and choreographed by Scott and Liz Davis.  First, there is the need to raise money to bury the four sisters. Second, there is the nun with no memory. Third, there is the dancing nun. Fourth, there is the understudy who wants to be a star. Fifth, there is the nun who needs to remind herself and others that “The biggest Ain’t the Best.”  Throw in a bit of accidental drug use, an explanation of bad luck at a leper colony through song “A Difficult Transition,” and a puppet, for some good solid laughs.

The overlapping storylines can get complicated with all of the octopus-arms veering out in all different directions.

The Nunsense story begins with a character that is never on stage: Sister Julia who accidentally prepared a vichyssoise that killed most of the nuns. The remaining sisters are now stuck with insane funeral costs. So, they put the bodies in the convent freezer to focus on a fundraiser. However, through a phone call the sister received while on stage, the Health Department made a surprise visit to the convent and demanded that the freezer cleaned the very next day. The “plot” meanders from there, full of silliness and some groans over the punny writing and Carol Burnette-esque skit writing.

Kiersten Vorheis, returning for her 8th season at Tibbits, as SisterMary Amnesia/Sister Mary Paul was extremely entertaining to watch in every song and dance. As the nun without a memory, she has a tiny, giggly voice. She does have has an impressive vocal range, though, and pulls a puppet mysteriously out of her habit and sings, “So You Want To Be a Nun”,  with Sister Mary Anette played by herself in a deeper octave. I would have loved to have seen her in a pair of tap shoes for the tap-number in “Growing Up Catholic.” She had all the dance moves down, but was still in just her black sneakers.

Liz Davis gets to show off her second job as choreographer with her twinkle toes as the dancing nun. Novice Sister Mary Leo wants to be the first ever dancing nun, but is running into some snags.  Mother Superior doesn’t approve of the tutu costumes that do not seem to go with vows of poverty and humility. The fundraiser gives her a chance to use her ballerina moves in “The Dying Nun Ballet.”

Even though Sister Mary Robert Anne (Branca), shows off a tough demeanor, she really wants to be a star.  Unfortunately, she was cast as the understudy in the show and dreams of her moment in the spotlight.  She gets her chance when Mother Superior “investigates” the items in a bag that Sister Mary Robert Anne came across left behind by a student in the bathroom. Brenda Sparks as Mother Superior does a hilarious rendition of “A Word from Reverend Mother” under the influence of a narcotic!

I was a bit surprised by 1st season performer Cheyanne Marie and SisterMary Hubert, Mistress of the Novices and a bit upset about always being second in command.  She seemed a bit reserved at the beginning of Act One, projecting shy and scared with her hands always hidden under her habit. But as the show progressed she came out as quite a showcase piece.

Nunsense is definitely “habit forming” as there are just a couple more shows left to see in the Tibbits run.

Next week starts Tibbits final summer season show of another classic piece,but this time just a straight play by Neil Simon, “Barefoot in the Park.” The company is holding late night cabarets after some of the Friday and Saturday night shows as well as Popcorn Theatre on Friday and Saturday mornings at 10AM. Tickets for any on these events can still bepurchased on www.tibbits.org or by calling their box office at 517-278-6029.

Week of 11/28/2022

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