Milwaukee Rep’s NUNSENSE Is Heaven SentLeft to right: Veronica Garza, Lachrisa Grandberry, Kelley Faulkner, Melody Betts, Candace Thomas-Photo by Michael Brosilow
Forgive me, my brothers and sisters, for dipping into my bag of holy- or nun-related terms a little too often with this review of a super-hilarious production of the hit musical comedy Nunsense that I saw in the Stackner Cabaret of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater recently. Holy Cow! Nunsense fires off jokes and hijinks in such rapid-fire succession that you might say it’s habit-forming, as one of the songs in the show’s wacky musical score proclaims.
Dan Goggin’s Nunsense is about the Little Sisters of Hoboken and the little problem they have on their hands: a culinary catastrophe wipes out most of their order, with the exception of four nuns that are still “on ice.” (There are jokes here about The Last Supper and the drink Ben & Jerry, but I won’t reveal them.) The sisters – five total – need to stage a fundraiser to pay for their fellow sisters’ final farewell. Nunsense is “about getting those girls out of the freezer,” just one of several uproarious proclamations that keep the audience in stitches for two hours as we learn more – through song and jokes – about these so-called saintly creatures in dire need of money.
The Milwaukee Rep’s production of Nunsense is pure heaven to experience because it retains and may even heighten Goggin’s original intent of telling a lively story interwoven with showvstopping songs, comedic skits and even delightful tap dancing. The audience is even invited to participate in a quiz – I’m mean, anything goes here. No dull moments. Nunsense really sweeps your cares away. Credit for the show’s brilliant comedic timing and break-neck pace goes to Malkia Stampley, making her Milwaukee Rep debut as director of Nunsense.
Nunsense offers nonstop side-splitting, hysterical humor brought to life with a heaven-sent cast blessed with God-given talent. The cast has perfect chemistry as a whole, yet each proves they have a gift from above to bring down the house in solo stints.
Melody Betts is hilarious as Sister Mary Regina and Mother Superior, especially when experiencing an accidental “high;” the Chicago-based Veronica Garza dazzles as the innocent Sister Mary Amnesia, and shines in the revealing “Could Have Gone to Nashville”.
Lachrisa Grandberry is a delight as the jolly Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices, who, with amazing vocals, earned thunderous applause with the powerful “Holier Than Thou”; and Candace Thomas is fab as fun-loving Sister Mary Leo, particularly in playing “The Dying Nun,” a spoof of the Sally Field TV series “The Flying Nun,” complete with grateful declaration “You like me, you really like me” line, taken from Field’s much-imitated Oscar acceptance speech.
But the real standout of this super cast is Rep favorite Kelley Faulkner, brilliant as tough-talking Brooklyn-born Sister Robert Anne. Desperate to rise from understudy to star of the fundraiser, Faulkner excels in a slew of imitations, from Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” to and Katharine Hepburn, by merely adjusting her hair to match that of each woman she brings to life. Faulkner’s heartfelt rendition of “Growing Up Catholic” and the show stopping “I Just Want to be a Star” perfectly demonstrate her astonishing range.
Happily, the outrageous antics and songs of Nunsense culminate in a satisfying conclusion that proves to the good Sisters of Hoboken that God, indeed, does work in mysterious ways.
Nunsense runs through Jan. 12. For details, www.MilwaukeeRep.com or (414) 224-9490.