When the saints go marching in they’re all heading straight for Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore to see the sensationally hysterical madcap musical revue Nunsense. The little sisters of Dundalk have come to town to put on a variety show in order to raise some funds for their order. Of course it’s never so straight forward, the reason the little sisters need the money is because Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisoned 52 of the convent’s sisters, and now these sisters need proper burials so that they can go home to God. Directed and Choreographed by Mark Minnick, with Musical Direction provided by Pamela Wilt, this rip-roaring good time will have you rolling in the pews with uproarious laughter; there’s no question about it these five sisters bring the hilarity full blast for a gut-busting evening of laughs.
Director Mark Minnick dives right into the zaniness of this musical and brings a fresh modern perspective to the 1980’s script. Tackling the comedy with vim and vigor, Minnick drives both the pacing of this production as well as the exuberant energy, keeping the audience engaged and toe-tapping right along with this quintet of quacky sisters. The mark of an outstanding director is easily identified in how easily the show flows and how much fun the performers are having upon the stage, and Minnick nails both concepts smashingly. The sisters are continuous bursts of radiant energy that bounce out to the audience and make for a wild ride that keeps you in stitches from beginning to end.
Minnick, doubling as the show’s choreographer, continues to pump elevated levels of energy into the show with his intricate and flashy dance routines. Nuns that can sing and dance are one thing, but these nuns tap, showcase real rhythm and style, and get the old razzle dazzle of true Broadway style worked into their dance numbers thanks to Minnick’s brilliance when it comes to show-stopping numbers like “Holier Than Thou” and “Tackle That Temptation With A Time Step.” The synchronization is impeccable and the sheer energetic force that flows through these sisters and out into these routines makes it that much enjoyable as a musical comedy.
For five ladies you wouldn’t expect such a powerful sound but hearing these nuns sing will not be an issue. Ensemble numbers such as “Nunsense is Habit-Forming” and “We’ve Got to Clean Out the Freezer” are delivered at top notch sounds while still being crisply annunciated so you never miss any of the ridiculously clever and witty puns that are packed into these songs. These five performers take turns carrying the hilarity, musical integrity, and overall success of the show on their collective shoulders; a true unifying piece of ensemble work if ever there was one.
That is not to say that the sisters don’t shine in their own right for naturally each lady has a turn in the spotlight, but the natural ability to come together as a collective and share the hilarity of this show is amazing. It’s obvious that these five performers are having a rowdy good time sharing their shenanigans with the audience, and that only encourages the audience to get a little crazy right along with the sisters, making for one epic night of fun.
Starting with the novice, Sister Mary Leo (Celia Blitzer) the audience finds the peculiar dreams of a nun ballerina being worked into the variety show. Blitzer is a bright bubbling ball of boundless energy that really blows the audience away with her bursts of passion over dancing through her morning in “Benedicite.” Radiating a youthful exuberance in her bunny slippers, her facial expressions are so animated that it brings laughs by the bucketful. Sharing “The Biggest Ain’t the Best” with Sister Mary Hubert, Blitzer falls in perfect step with the mistress of the novices for this showboating number.
But Blitzer’s best moments are her dance sequences, particularly “Soup’s On (The Dying Nun Ballet).” Flitting about and twirling her ribbons, Blitzer is the epitome of a sprightly hopeful creature in ballet slippers, quickly falling into an epic comic ending that keeps the audience roaring long after the scene has ended. A true effervescent presence, Blitzer is the funny nun to keep an on.
The bubbles and giddy goodness rise right up over the convent and into the rafters, reaching new heights of insanity with Sister Mary Amnesia (Elizabeth Rayca). The ever-present blank stare and goofy grin on her lips would be enough to send anyone into a giggling fit, but Rayca takes it two steps further with her extremely absent-minded personality. Rayca plays to perfection this mindless Mary, coming up several beads short of a full rosary. Her handle on the audience interaction segment of the show is a comic goldmine and her stage presence is as great as her memory’s absence.
Joining Rayca is Sister Mary Annette— you’ll simply have to see this one to believe it— for the duet “So you Want to be a Nun.” A chalice full of yucks, this song is the sister’s ‘Amen of comedy’ but also lets us hear how truly powerful her voice is. She belts it out, with a superior high-end soprano range, and could literally blast the devil straight back to hell with that enormous sound.
Rayca also brings the audience the most touching moment of the show, her solo “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville,” which appears late in Act II. This moment is tender, moving, and brings a slight tear to the eye making Rayca draw a tie for most versatile player in the show. We find one other moment of sentimentality amid the constant comic catastrophe and that comes to the audience during “Growing Up Catholic,” a solo performed by Sister Robert Anne (Heather Marie Beck). Beck’s solo here is a complete contrast to her insane-in-the-brain ‘understudy’ character, bringing truly deep moving emotions to the surface, sublimely juxtaposing her softer side against her streetwise background.
Beck is the show-stealer, hands down. Zany and cracked cuckoo like a crushed communion wafer, this woman takes every moment she can to live up to the tomfoolery of her character’s quirky nature. Her initial solo “Playing Second Fiddle” is a hysterical lament about being stuck as the understudy, but there’s no need to worry as Beck steals the solo spotlight right out from under their habits, proving she’s anything but an understudy. She’s not just a sparkler, as Reverend Mother says, she’s a whole box of explosive fireworks. Her constant scene-interrupting hyjinx are riotous, chock-full of pop-modern references and so well executed between her physical comic presence and her intensely animated face that you can’t stop laughing at her. Not only does she master the music in the show but Beck holds her own during an intense series of “nun impressions” directed at the audience, a true show-stopping moment as the audience at the performance I attended struggled to stay upright in their chairs from laughing so hard.
Leader of the novices, and agitator of all nuns superior, is Sister Mary Hubert (Jesaira Glover). A constant comic thorn in Reverend Mother’s side, Glover has a stage presence that rivals them all. Shining in her own right for duets like “The Biggest Ain’t the Best,” she really brings the comedy hand in hand with her perfect singing voice. Playing the bump of comic relief in an already epically hysterical show is no easy task but Glover delivers with her own brand of witty zingers and one-liners, mainly delivered to the mother superior. Sharing a duet with the head honcho, “Just a Coupl’a Sisters,” this number becomes a classic ham-it-up moment with intensely perfect harmonies and some serious hilarity.
Glover’s comedy is not the only trick she’s hiding under her wimple. With an amazing ability to belt her glorious voice up to God we hear “Holier Than Thou” pitched at the audience in true tent revival style. The whole audience was clapping along and practically singing and dancing in their seats as she droves the energy in this finale, really bringing the show home in the way only such an incredible singer can.
Topping the bill of the order is Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina (Jane C. Boyle). A perfect balance of singing, dancing, comedic explosions, Boyle is the nun’s Amen in this role! With her slight Irish-Catholic accent and disproving looks when things go wrong she’s the epitome of a mother superior. She warms to the spotlight with her own polished flare for her solo “Turn Up the Spotlight,” and really lets her inner star shine through for her duet with Glover. Boyle’s sharp notions of comic timing keep the audience in peel after peel of laughter.
Her real triumph comes from her non-musical number entitled “An Unexpected Discovery.” Sheer madness ensues when Boyle gets going, she’s really on a roll and takes the audience tumbling down with her in bouts of brilliant insanity all of which culminate in the longest segment of uninterrupted laughter in the show. A master of this comic moment, and all the others that happen throughout the performance, Boyle brings it full force giving one hell of a memorable performance.
Do you hear that horn a blowing? It’s Gabriel, begging you to come see the hilarious hyjinx and silly shenanigans of these five nuns on stage. So for heaven’s sake go and get your tickets to Nunsense before the pearly gates close and you miss this uniquely divine opportunity!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.
Nunsense plays through July 14, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore— 5625 O’Donnell Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 649-1660, or purchase them online.