Nunsense, now playing at The Gateway in Bellport, is a heavenly performance of musical comedy, which brings lots of laughs to the stage. The Little Sisters of Hoboken are putting on a fundraiser to help bury four of the 52 sisters, now stuck in the cafeteria freezer, who died due to Sister Julia’s soup. But as the show goes on, it’s revealed that the fundraiser might not be all about the dead sisters, and instead an excuse for these nuns to be in the spotlight.
Director and choreographer Keith Andrews is no novice when it comes to The Gateway. He has previously directed shows including Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Show, Rock of Ages and Avenue Q. Though Andrews has an extremely talented cast to work with, it’s clear by the flow of the show and impressive (and hilarious) choreography that Andrews truly made this show what it is: a crisp production that showcases the talents of those who star in it.
The music in this show, written by Dan Goggin and directed by Gateway’s Music Director Robert Felstein, features traditional Roman Catholic hymns mixed with modern, up-beat showtunes. The music is accompanied by cheeky jokes, often about Roman Catholic traditions and nuns themselves. But there are quite a a few more general cultural references made as well, which brings in those audience members who may not understand the Roman Catholic comedy. Sister Mary Regina, played by Kate Chapman, is the head of the convent and fundraiser. It’s mentioned multiple times by Sister Mary Hubert, played by Tamara Anderson, that the fundraiser is necessary because Sister Mary Regina spent some of the money, previously raised by selling greeting cards, to buy a television instead of burying the last four sisters.
This musical also features a lot of audience interaction. Prior to entering the theater you’re drawn in by everyone from parking to box office attendants dressed as priests and nuns. The actors get in on the action speaking to the audience before the show begins and throughout. There is a quiz given to the audience after the first big number by Sister Mary Amnesia, and a basketball tournament headed by Sister Robert Anne after intermission. Sister Amnesia is instructed to be tough, but has a childlike personality and a voice which makes it difficult to take her seriously—and also gets a lot of laughs. Caitlin Mesiano, who plays Sister Amnesia, is a feel-good character with a soaring voice. Mesiano stuns in her solos “So You Want to be a Nun” and “I Could Have Gone to Nashville” with an incredible vocal range and comedic timing.
Perhaps the funniest scene is that in which Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior, accidentally gets high sniffing glue and ends up laughing uncontrollably on stage. The entire audience could be seen clutching their stomachs and wiping tears from their eyes as Sister Mary Regina switched gears, from the prim and proper leader of the convent to a silly, sinful woman being chased by the other nuns. The sarcastic and wise Sister Hubert takes charge in this moment of chaos as the fundraiser begins to unravel. She oversees the novices, the youngest being Sister Mary Leo who dreams of becoming the first nun ballerina. Played by Krista Kurtzberg, Sister Leo shines on stage, particularly in the dance numbers.
But Sister Robert Anne, played by Alexa Jane Lowis, truly stole the show. Her belting on the song “Playing Second Fiddle” might give one chills, and her strong Brooklyn accent added a different dimension to the character. She could be called a nun for the modern age, at one-point rapping to the audience and at another pretending to “melt” as the Wicked Witch of the West. Her character is kept out of the spotlight for most of the show by Sister Mary Regina, but her performance was the most memorable of the night.
Nunsense is, at its core, a feel-good musical comedy. There are many Roman Catholic references and jokes throughout, as can be expected from a show about nuns, but don’t let this fool you. These aren’t typical Catholic school nuns. These women are charming, with heart-warming stories and the voices of angels, that can make you laugh so hard you’ll wonder why your abdominals are sore the next day. In a good way.
Nunsense runs through June 23 at The Gateway, 215 South Country Road, Bellport. 631-286-1133, thegateway.org