By Mary Boyle
Way back in the early 80's, a guy named Dan Goggin started a series of greeting cards featuring nuns spouting clerical humor. Who could have known that their popularity would evolve into the second-longest running Off-Broadway production? Goggin's NUNSENSE, A Musical Comedy, has traveled around the world and even made it into television, but now it's made its way to The Rep's Stackner Cabaret for a hand-clapping, foot-tapping, can't-stop-laughing good time!
Malkia Stampley makes her directorial debut at The Rep, with music direction by the brilliant Dan Kazemi, Nunsense is equal parts comedy and vocal talent, and you don't need to be Catholic to get the jokes (although it doesn't hurt). The Little Sisters of Hoboken are putting on a variety show fundraiser after their cook, Sister Julia Child, manages to inadvertently poison and kill most of the convent with her latest dish. While most of the sisters were laid to rest, Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Melody Betts) went out and bought a fancy TV, leaving no funds left to bury the remaining four sisters, who are being conveniently stored in the freezer. Together with Mother Superior, Sister Mary Hubert (Lachrisa Grandberry), Sister Mary Leo (Candace Thomas), Sister Robert Anne (Kelley Faulkner), and Sister Mary Amnesia (Veronica Garza) perform for the audience in the hopes of raising their needed funds.
Well cast in every way, Nunsense is a perfect production for the intimate Stackner Cabaret stage. Rep favorite, Kelley Faulkner (Guys & Dolls, Always...Patsy Cline, The All Night Strut) proves she had comedic as well as vocal talent, and is fabulous in her funny socks and Chuck Taylors. Candace Thomas, who began as an Emerging Professional Resident at The Rep several seasons ago, delivers a great performance as Sister Mary Leo, the nun who dreams of being a dancer. Both Melody Betts and Lachrisa Grandberry make their Rep debuts and offer stunning vocal power to the production, while Veronica Garza, who also makes her Rep review, is delightfully funny as Sister Mary Amnesia.
If there is a nun joke to be had, you'll probably hear it in this production but, for all that it is a comedy, there is some very pointed commentary on the Catholic church within the production that surprised me a little. In fact, the song "Growing Up Catholic," which is sung by Faulkner in the opening of the second act, isn't funny, at all, but rather a nostalgic take on "the good old days" when mass was said in Latin, finishing with lamentation about the modern changes in the church. I didn't find it alarming or offensive, but you do definitely get a sense that the playwright wants to put his two cents in while he's poking fun at his religion. Nonetheless, the talent and laughs are overflowing in this show, and you can't go wrong spending an evening with a slice of raspberry cheesecake and a cup of coffee at the Stackner.
NUNSENSE, A Musical Comedy, runs through January 12th at the Stackner Cabaret, located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
About The Milwaukee Rep
Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin in terms of audiences served and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, Milwaukee Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues–the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio and Stackner Cabaret. For over 65 years, Milwaukee Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change and a forward-thinking provider of vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive Director Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity.