The New York Times - 6/30/98

-Lawrence Van Gelder

'Nunsense A-Men': A Change of Habit, Boy Oh Boy!

NEW YORK -- Leopards may not be able to change their spots, but habits can change their nuns.

So today's news is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken, those cowled cutups and wimpled wiseacres who exemplified the spirit of mischief on New York stages for nearly a decade in "Nunsense," have returned. But only after a sex change.

Really.

The five sisters who opened the other day in a revival of the show are men. The new version, written and directed once again by Dan Goggin, goes by the title "Nunsense A-Men!" But it is still very much the anything-for-a-laugh grab bag of jokes and songs wrapped in a see-through plot that opened at the Cherry Lane Theater in December 1985 and didn't give up the ghost until February 1995 at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater after 3,672 performances.

Is it a great show? No. Is it fun? Definitely yes, especially for those who can bear with the gags, which run from the inane ("How do you get down off a duck?" "How did you get up there in the first place?") to the profane (double-entendres about names like John) to the punny ("Hello, Dalai Lama") and the funny (a raucous recipe for turkey stuffing using unpopped corn). The show gathers momentum as it proceeds, and by its conclusion it manages to impress if not with its sophistication then with the energy and talent of its cast and its relentless commitment to the spirit of entertainment.

Does it make a difference that the nuns are played by men? Not in the least. It's a one-joke joke, and after Sister Mary Amnesia makes her entrance, looking seven feet tall, and the other four sisters quickly establish their characters, "Nunsense A-Men!" wisely moves on to the funny business at hand, and the fine actors take advantage of the show's many opportunities to display their talents.

The cast is a genuine blessing. It is led by David Titus as that porky pixie Sister Mary Regina, the Reverend Mother and resident mugger, with plenty of help. Lothair Eaton plays Sister Mary Hubert, the ambitious deputy whose lack of humility led her to dream of turning the Little Sisters of Hoboken into the Big Sisters of Newark. Greg White is the sweet, silly Sister Mary Amnesia, who makes her loss of memory memorable and turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Doan Mackenzie is the innocent-looking novice Sister Mary Leo, a not-so-secret balletomane. And Danny Vaccaro is Sister Robert Anne, right out of Canarsie and yearning for a leading role in the sisters' fund-raising show.

Thank goodness that all these performers can act, sing, dance and put over a joke, because as anyone familiar with "Nunsense" knows, the airheaded plot revolves around the sisters' efforts to raise money by putting on a show.

It seems that the order's chef, Sister Julia, Child of God, managed to send 52 of its sisters heavenward, chilled out by means of a batch of vichyssoise tainted with botulism. Forty-eight were buried before Sister Mary Regina blew the order's remaining money on a VCR, so four are still literally on ice in the freezer while the question of paying for their burial remains unresolved.

So, under the musical direction of Leo P. Carusone, with songs that range from the tender to the hand-clapping torrid, the show goes on, with everything from "The Dying Nun Ballet" to a ventriloquist act with a nun dummy to gags about "The Wizard of Oz," "Show Boat" and "Sunset Boulevard."

Playing at the 47th Street Theater, between heaven and Hell's Kitchen, "Nunsense A-Men!" may not please the rigidly reverent, but those who stick around long enough will find a fair share of earthly rewards.

PRODUCTION NOTES:

'NUNSENSE A-MEN!'

Written and directed by Dan Goggin; musical staging and choreography by Felton Smith; sets by Barry Axtell; lighting by Richard Latta; musical direction by Leo P. Carusone; general manager, Roger Alan Gindi; production stage manager, John W. Calder III. Presented by the Nunsense Theatrical Company, in association with Joseph Hoesl, Bill Crowder and Jay Cardwell. At the 47th Street Theater.

With: Lothair Eaton (Sister Mary Hubert), Doan Mackenzie (Sister Mary Leo), David Titus (Sister Mary Regina), Danny Vaccaro (Sister Robert Anne) and Greg White (Sister Mary Amnesia).