When the lights came up at the end of Theatre Three’s latest offering—the zany Dan Goggin musical Nunsense, which opened Saturday, February 24—audience member Adrienne Pellegrino stood and bubbled, “In one word: fabulous!” She pointed to this reviewer’s pad of notes and continued, “That’s all you have to tell them. The acting, the singing, the dancing—all fabulous! End of review.”
It’s completely true, though maybe you’d like to know why Pellegrino gave it such a stellar review.
The fun starts even before the lights go down signaling Act I. An ensemble of five spirited actresses swathed in nuns’ habits circulate through the crowd, welcoming all and making small talk. This sets the tone for more audience participation to come.
Nunsense focuses on five surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken who come back to the convent after an evening of playing bingo, only to discover their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisoned 52 of the nuns with a bowl of tainted vichyssoise. They managed to raise enough money to bury all 52, or so they think when they purchase a big screen television. It’s only after the purchase that they realize there isn’t enough money to bury the remaining four nuns, who are now being kept on ice. The sisters decide to raise funds for the remaining burials by putting on a variety show.
The musical’s comedy comes from juxtaposing the impression of nuns as highly proper and moralistic against these five sisters who quickly slap audiences with their irreverent antics. Each actress gets her turn centerstage and all are equally adept at madcap humor.
Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior (Phyllis March) breaks the fourth wall immediately by greeting the audience and apologizing for their set, a backdrop right out of Grease, the eighth grade production currently running in Mt. Saint Helen’s School auditorium. The five nuns introduce themselves in the opening song, “Nunsense is Habit-Forming,” and then segue into “A Difficult Transition,” about how they got to where they are. After this, Sister Mary Amnesia (Tracylynn Conner), who got her name when a crucifix fell on her head causing memory loss, quizzes the audience and hands out prizes for correct answers. Conner’s innocent wide eyes and gorgeous soprano hugs the audience. Later, her ventriloquist routine with a very lively nun puppet is a showstopper.
Sister Mary Leo (Jessica Contino), intent on being the first ballerina nun, gets a little carried away in her dance until the dignified yet witty Sister Mary Hubert (Linda May) interrupts with the reminder “The Biggest Ain’t The Best.” Contino’s ballet is impressive as May’s belting tones reverberate throughout the cavernous theatre.
Sister Robert Anne (Sari Feldman), a tough, Brooklyn street kid pleads with the Mother Superior to give her a leading role and not just an understudy. Her plea, “I got aspirations,” is met with the rye response: “You can kiss your aspirations goodbye.”
Feldman immediately captures the audience with her Brooklyn accent, rough demeanor and powerful voice.
One particularly hilarious segment happens when Sister Robert Anne hands Mother Superior a vile of something called Rush that she found in the girls’ bathroom. Mother Superior sniffs the potion and immediately gets high. March delivers side-splitting laughs as she engages in antics reminiscent of the best Carol Burnett physical humor.
Director Jeff Sanzel has assembled a multitalented ensemble of actresses who work brilliantly off each other, seemingly enjoying every moment as they beckon the audience to join in their fun.
Randall Parsons’ scenic design whimsically displays 1950s memorabilia, Grease style, with vinyl records and photos of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis adorning the peach colored walls.
The band, under the musical direction of Steve McCoy, becomes another character in the show, often engaging in amusing bits.
Even those who have previously seen Nunsense should not miss this production! Join the fun, now running through March 24.
One somber note must be included here. Before the start of every show, Theatre Three’s artistic director, Jeff Sanzel, always goes center stage, greets the audience and announces upcoming shows. But this particular night was especially poignant as Sanzel dedicated the production of Nunsense to Carolyn Droscoski, a Theatre Three regular for more than 30 years who died suddenly from an aneurysm on February 5.
I had the great opportunity of working with Carolyn in the early days of Theatre Three. Memories of our time together in a production of the musical Carnival replay itself. I recall planting myself in the wings each night waiting for Caroline’s big number and marveling at her belting tones that seemed to wrap around the audience, engulfing them and me in a lyrical cocoon.
Later, Caroline’s talent was recognized with a stint in the Off-Broadway production of Nunsense. I was lucky enough to see her magnetic performance in that show, making Carolyn and Nunsense synonymous in my mind.
How coincidental that Theatre Three, the venue for so many of Caroline’s performances, should replace the scheduled show Working for Nunsense after a turn of events, and that this is the first show produced at the theater immediately after Carolyn left us. Sanzel had no way of knowing when he made this switch that it might very well become a production dedicated to one of the Theatre Three’s most beloved actresses.
Life holds so many mysteries. One cannot help but think a higher power had a hand in this coincidence.
Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Call 631-928-9100 or visit theatrethree.com for tickets and schedules.