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'Nuns' entertain with charm, spirit

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

Nunsense is a sweet and playful little show, just made for intimate venues such as the Angel Cabaret Theatre, where it's playing through May 18.

The musical comedy, which was created by a former Catholic seminarian, has been an audience favorite since its off-Broadway debut in 1985. It has played around the world in hundreds of professional and community theaters, and has spawned five sequels -- all of them centered on the high jinks of the saucy Little Sisters of Hoboken.

In this, the original, five of the convent nuns are putting together a talent show to raise money to bury their four sisters, who succumbed to some poison soup concocted by the inept convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God, (renamed Sister Martha, Steward of Christ, in some recent productions).

Nunsense's loosely written script -- it's held together by a couple of running jokes -- lets the players go off on tangents, making forays into the audience, localizing the script's jokes, mugging it up or simply extending a joke in order to milk the crowd for laughs.

And the Angel's Saturday night crowd lapped it up.

The strong cast, headed by Dee Etta Rowe as Sister Mary Regina, the convent chief, charms as much as it entertains, with the nuns gaily, but incongruously tap dancing (Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step), singing ribald songs (listen closely to the lyrics of Difficult Transition) and telling insider Catholic jokes (the Mother Superior's intimidating clicker), to name a few.

Becca McCoy makes a strong Sister Robert Anne, the convent tomboy with a tender spiritual side. Chelle St. Pierre is a winsome novice, Sister Mary Leo, who longs to use her ballet as a way to worship. And Jodi Lynne Sylvester is a vivacious Sister Mary Amnesia, who was hit on the head by a falling crucifix and can't remember who she is, though Sylvester's operatic voice doesn't make her altogether convincing as a potential country singer in Nashville.

The show's sparkler, though, is Bernice "Sista B" Harley, whose big eyes, animated face and self-assured body moves bring life to Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices who covets the Mother Superior's job. Seemingly without effort, Ms. Harley dominates in her duets, The Biggest Ain't the Best and Just a Coupl'a Sisters. Too bad that the number traditionally given to her character, the rocking Holier Than Thou, was assigned to another player. It would have been fun to see what she could do with it.

Director Jimmy Ferraro gives the show a spirited pace and adds to the fun with occasional appearances as "Brother Jimmy."

A side note: New York Style Catering is back in charge of the food service and is even better than before.

If you go

Nunsense runs through May 18 at Angel Cabaret Theatre, 5201 U.S. 19, New Port Richey. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays and 1:30 p.m. some weekdays. Doors open two hours before each show for buffet, and cash wine and beer bar. Dinner and show, $34.50; show only, $21.95. Ages 12 and younger, $22.50 and $16.95. Call (727) 847-0019.

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