Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents the musical farce Nunsense, starring Sally Struthers as Mother Superior, and with book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin. When the Little Sisters of Hoboken find themselves in a situation that demands fast cash, they decide to put on a hastily planned variety show. The original script derails quickly, and the result is an evening of hilarious entertainment. Directed by Patti D’Beck with musical direction by Carson Eubank, Nunsense is the night of comedic relief that we all need right now!
Scenic Designer Frank Foster sets a stage worthy of the show’s title; based on the architecture and suspended crucifix, the backdrop is undoubtedly a Catholic church, but garish cardboard cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis are questionably in attendance. A somewhat harried Mother Superior takes the stage and explains (as she covers up a scantily-clad Marilyn with a sheet) that they’re temporarily taking over the stage that their students have decorated for an upcoming production of Grease. The remaining Sisters introduce themselves and explain that the rest of their convent recently died of botulism from an ill-fated cooking accident. The Sisters need to raise funds to cover the cost of burying the last four deceased nuns, who are currently chilling in the basement freezer! They need to get this done quickly for obvious reasons, not the least important being that “the ice cream doesn’t taste the same anymore.”
What follows is hard to describe, because it’s fairly disjointed and chaotic—it’s, well, a bunch of nonsense! Through their variety show, we get to know the quirky women and their relationships with each other; and they get to know us as well. Audience participation is a big part of this show, the most memorable moments coming from Jeanne Tinker as the sweet, bubbly Sister Mary Amnesia. She walks throughout the audience, asking questions and giving out prizes, quipping to one audience member, “I’m giving you a prize just for being a Catholic! I bet you thought it would never pay off, didn’t you?” After being clocked on the head by a falling crucifix, Sister Mary Amnesia has trouble remembering things—like her own name, and why she wanted to become a nun in the first place. Her story is best told in the number “So You Want to Be a Nun,” where she chats about the topic with her ventriloquist dummy (yep).
Susan Gutierrez plays Sister Robert Anne, a crass, street-smart nun who speaks with a heavy Brooklyn accent. As the designated understudy, she feels overlooked (“Playing Second Fiddle”) and grabs any chance she can to be in the spotlight. Sarah Mae Anderson plays the young, naïve Sister Mary Leo, who wanted to dance ballet for the show, but was told that her tutu was “too much.” The second-in-charge Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices, is played by Kadejah Oné. She and Mother Superior get into several quibbles throughout the show, one always trying to upstage the other in an obvious power struggle. Her upbeat number “Holier Than Thou” is easily the most memorable, and Oné’s spectacular vocals alone are worth the ticket price!
However, the powerhouse here is Sally Struthers as Mother Superior. Her witty remarks get a lot of laughs, but the audience goes particularly nuts during a scene where she accidentally ingests some drugs and gets pretty loopy. Known for her physical slapstick, Struthers does not disappoint as she rolls and tumbles across the stage, giggling and raising general mayhem. Oh, and the fluffy tutu that she said was “too much” for Sister Mary Leo? Well, Mother Superior finds it backstage and proudly displays it around her own neck.
The performances are all top-notch, and choreography by Patti D’Beck lends a lot of fun to the show, particularly in the number “Turn Off That Spotlight.” Riverside’s live music is widely known as its crown gem, and Eubank conducts another stellar evening with David Ladrum on keyboards, Tony Moran on reeds, and Kyle Smith on percussion. While the show itself is kind of all over the place (by design), everyone comes together to deliver a lively production that somehow in the end makes perfect sense.
It’s no secret that we’re all currently feeling a lot of added strain and stress in our lives for a whole multitude of reasons, which makes Nunsense’s timing perfect. It’s silly and fun, and we could all use an evening of that!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Adult Dinner & Show – $75 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $60
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $55
Children (3-12) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.
The cast and creative credits for Nunsense are online here.
COVID Safety: Staff wears masks when working the floor (meal-service portion). Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.