MILL HALL - If "Nunsense" is the habit-forming musical, then "Nunsense A-Men!" should be dubbed the change-of-habit musical.
Millbrook Playhouse concludes its historic 50th season with Dan Goggin's "Nunsense A-Men!" with regularly scheduled 7:30 p.m. performances tonight through Sunday in the downstairs Cabaret. With a hefty advance ticket sale, the run has been extended with four extra shows on August 14 to 17, with the August 14 performance a special benefit for AIDS Resource.
Not one of the half-dozen sequels to the vastly popular "Nunsense," "...A-Men!" is a spinoff with all the same dialogue, songs and characters retained except the quintet of the Little Sisters of Hoboken are played by men.
Millbrook Playhouse concludes its historic 50th season with Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense A-Men!” with regularly scheduled 7:30 p.m. performances tonight through Sunday in the downstairs Cabaret.
The simple storyline begins as the covent cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisons 52 of the good nuns with tainted soup. Now, desperate to raise funds for a proper burial - they are currently stored in the covent freezer - the surviving nuns decide to put on a show in the Mt. Saint Helen's Auditorium.
The five nuns, with varying degrees of talent, are the Reverend Mother, Sr. Mary Regina; Sr. Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; Sr. Robert Ann, the street-wise nun from Brooklyn; Sr. Mary Leo, the would-be first nun ballerina; and Sr. Mary Amnesia - that's not her real name, but the one given after a crucifix fell, hitting her on the head.
Each actor plays well off the others and is given ample time to shine with a solo dance or song.
Heading the cast are Richard Koons Wagner as the Mother Superior, a former circus performer, and Cory Lawson (the raucous Bottom in Millbrook's "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream") as Hubert, the second in command. Lawson's Sr. Hubert mixes equal doses of dry humor and thwarted ambition. Wagner, with an occasional Irish brogue shares the spotlight in the duet "Just A Coupl'a Sisters." Lawson leads the ensemble in hand-clapping rousing finale "Holier Than Thou."
As an ensemble, the five dance well together from high-kicking to tap numbers. The individual dance highlight was Josh Houghton (remembered from last year's "Snoopy") as Sr. Mary Leo. The lanky Leo reaches new heights, touching the low-ceiling Cabaret in the "Swan Lake" or "Dying Swan" number, dancing on pointe and generating big laughs.
Getting the best lines and some of the show's best moments is Millbrook veteran Richard Guido. As Sr. Robert Ann, Guido with a variety of accessories, tells jokes, and after using his nun's wimple for visual impersonations, wowed the opening night audience by belting out "I Just Wanna Be A Star."
Matt Kieseling, with all the silliness around him, gives an affectionate portrayal as the Southern belle searching for her identity, getting sustained applause with "I Could Have Gone to Nashville".
Ovi Vargas is director and choreographer of the two-hour, calamity-filled fundraiser. But for no apparent reasons, the director skips several sure-fire funny scenes.
Act I omissions: Sr. Amnesia doesn't conduct a quiz (and I often won a prize if only "for being a Catholic"), and Sr. Regina doesn't find a bottle of "rush."
Act 2 omissions: After the St. Andrew Sisters sing "At the Drive-In," it is maybe understandable not being able to set up a "drive-in" screen to show slides of Sr. Regina frolicking in in her beach attire. But missed most of all is Sr. Amnesia and Sr. Regina reviewing the hilarous recipes in the covent cookbook "Cooking With the B.V.M. (Blessed Virgin Mary)." Skipping this simple-staged scene is hard to explain to "Nunsense" devotees.
Millbrook opened its season with "Grease," with the banner "Welcome Back to Rydell High" flying high above the Main Stage. The same banner flies low in the Cabaret as the backdrop in "Nunsense A-Men!"
Although younger patrons may not recognize some of the show's references ("Mt. Saint Helen's," "Blue Nun") updated references, including "50 Shades of Grey," "Sr. Marijuana" and a dozen others keeps this version timely and fresh-feeling.
"Nunsense A-Men" succeeds as it is not a drag show, but features five talented actors who let their hair down - of course you can't see their hair hidden behind their bonnets - to explore once again the humor of the nun.
They play it straight, which is, of course, funny. Very funny. So if theatergoers are - pardon the expression - praying for end-of-summer entertainment, Millbrook is the answer to these heartfelt prayers.
For tickets, call 748-8083 or visit www.millbrookplayhouse.org.