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'Nunsense' opens Old Lyric season on a familiar note

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 10 2013 4:26 p.m. MDT

“Nunsense,” Caine Lyric Theatre, 28 W. Center, Logan; through Aug. 5 at varying times; $17-$30 at arts.usu.edu/lyric; running time: 2 hours, with one 10-minute intermission‎

LOGAN — There are a couple of musicals that find themselves popping up as featured material presented by local theater troupes in Utah almost every summer. Count on it. Almost as certain as mosquitoes and sunburn, “Forever Plaid” and “Nunsense” can be seen — or have been seen — by theater fans from Panguitch to Pickleville.

In this "celebratory season" (100 years since the opening of the Caine Lyric Theatre), the Old Lyric Repertory Company in Logan has brought back “Nunsense” as a nod to the many musical revues that have tripped across the Caine Lyric stage. It is, promoters say, the third time the OLRC has produced this Dan Goggin musical, said to be the second-longest-running off-Broadway show in history.

The synopsis is this: the Little Sisters of Hoboken, a one-time missionary order of nuns that ran a leper colony before establishing a convent in New Jersey, has had the misfortune of losing 52 of the sisters of the order in one evening. It seems Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisoned the stew and these sisters. Those who missed that meal are now finding ways to raise funds to bury the dead — or at least the final four that remain in the kitchen’s freezer. The setup, of course, is the excuse for five of the more outgoing sisters to stage a talent show, as it were, before the health department finds the bodies and throws the book at them — and that’s not the Good Book, either.

And that frantic fundraising talent show becomes “Nunsense,” which acknowledges and involves the audience, with fully garbed sisters roaming the aisles and greeting the audience before the show begins, as well as tossing out lame, er, ah, familiar nun jokes at intermission. Yes, a lot of “Nunsense” feels familiar.

The sisters are led by Sister Mary Regina (Camille Van Wagoner), a mother superior who has misappropriated some of the convent funds set aside for the burial of lost sisters. Joining her in the musical fundraiser are Sister Mary Hubert (Jill Hoffmann-Cox), Sister Robert Ann (Rachel Shul), Sister Mary Amnesia (Tamari Dunbar) and Sister Mary Leo (Ashley Gardner Carlson).

Each actress quickly and effectively falls into her respective characterizations — Sister Regina spouting an on-target upper-Midwest accent and showing a nice ability to cover her tracks fast and effectively when lines were missed (and, yes, a couple were missed opening night); Sister Robert Ann with her Brooklyn “streetwise” accent and tennis shoes; Dunbar handling the forgetfulness, blank stares and solos of Sister Amnesia well; and Sister Mary Leo, with her desires to be the first professional ballerina nun.

As the ballerina wannabe, Carlson leaves patrons wishing she had more stage time and at the very least a solo. Carlson has a strong, almost operatic soprano and can be heard carrying many of the ensemble pieces. Her dancing is also a strong point in the production — she has some tip-top tip toes, for certain — but, alas, no real solo opportunity.

Many of the musical numbers, as the sisters push the “story” along, are presented in a way that characterizations are the key, rather than being on key. This is not a pitch-perfect presentation, but certainly registers high on the enthusiasm scale — all of these sisters are having fun, and it shows. They harmonize well when singing as a group, though sometimes the singing melds into shouting.

But that’s part of the fun — the show must go on if these four frozen sisters are going to get into the ground before the Board of Health returns, you see. The show’s final big number, in fact, is a perfect example: “Holier Than Thou” was pitchy, yes, but fun and almost irreverent, as could be said of much of the first production of the OLRC season.

Jay Wamsley lives in Smithfield and can be seen at arts events in and around Cache Valley. He can be reached at jaywams01@gmail.com

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