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North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre's selection for the Christmas season is Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, written by the series creator, Dan Goggins. Nunsense, as we have come to know, is the comical series about the Mt. St. Helen's convent in Hoboken, NJ. As the Reverend Mother was quick to point out, since Sister Julia (Child of God) wiped out 52 of the Sisters many moons ago with vichyssoise tainted with botulism, the five remaining sisters have valiantly gone on with the convent and the school. To celebrate Christmas this year, the convent has decided to put on a musical in their new basement studio, funded by one sister's winning the Publishers Clearing House prize last year.
As befits a revival, there are veterans in evidence. The Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina, is played here by Mary Beth Hollman, reprising her role for NRACT. In addition, the role of Sister Robert Anne is played by returning artist Sandi Sullivan, who played the sister in the very first installment of Nunsense to hit Raleigh at the Raleigh Little Theatre, lo these 22 years ago! (I was in the audience for that performance; it seems unreal that 22 years have passed since that show first hit the scene.)
The cast is larger in this show than most in the series. This season the sisters are joined by Father Virgil Manly Trott (Mark Taranto) and a quartet of young lasses, winners of the school's annual theatre award who are therefore blessed with helping put on the show for this year's fundraiser. The girls are Louise (Elizabeth Hollman), Maria (Abbie Ostbye), Joan (Liz Webb), and Billie (Kimmy Fiorentino). They join the sisters onstage, including Sister Mary Hubert (Melanie Carviou), Sister Mary Paul (Ashley Izzo), and Sister Mary Leo (Elizabeth Anderson).
With 23 musical numbers, there is music aplenty, including a sing-along to a "carol" that was stitched together from all of the nuns' favorite carols. This was a rather tremendous feat on the part of Goggins; the song actually flowed and was a pretty strong tune in Act II.
As it should be, Act II was better than Act I, which sported two pretty tired shticks. The first was the impersonation of Sister Julia (Child of God) by the Rev. Trott, who must make fruitcake using rum which (as all Nunsense viewers know) makes the reverend drunk as a skunk. The second was the sisters' attempt at the Nutcracker ballet, when neither the sisters nor the girls know how to dance ballet. The Law of Murphy applies here, and all things go wrong, closing out Act I.
As befits the Christmas season, we hear a couple of heartfelt stories from the sisters. The Reverend Mother tells us the tale of "A Carnival Christmas," wherein her parents and the carnival they are traveling in celebrate Christmas even though there is no money to do so. And Sister Mary Robert Anne tells us of the year (when she was twelve) when her father came home for Christmas after leaving the family in the lurch the year before. Both these tales were heartfelt and sung with grace and gusto.
Another showstopper (by design of course) was Sister Robert Anne's interpretation of "All I Want for Christmas." Sullivan broke out her showgirl persona and belted out a doozy of a tune, "All I want for Christmas is a Night at Carnegie Hall."
The Nunsense brand is always fun, and this year's installment had the requisite off-color jokes about nuns in general; unfortunately for the sisters, this show is not up to Goggins' usual good humor. The jokes are tired and the shtick is old hat. These actors did their very best with it, but most of what we saw just wasn't funny. Add to that a trio of musicians who were still finding their way with the music, and one of the props of the Nunsense brand was kicked out from under the show.
While the sisters dealt with all the many errata that plague the show by its own design, the actors gave a true and gung-ho interpretation that had its moments but ultimately provided mixed results. A lot of Goggins' humor is old, and even the Little Sisters of Hoboken, try as they might, could not entirely save it. Nevertheless, this is a fun Christmas offering; the kids will get a charge out of it, and (especially if you are Catholic) a lot of what we saw was familiar. But this is not Goggins' best attempt, and as an addition to the Nunsense lineup, this script needs some work.
Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical continues through Sunday, December 20. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.