Toby’s Dinner Theatre makes Nunsense a habit
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 11:55

Hit show at dinner theatre through July 14

by Nicole Rodman

    The set, props, costumes and cast are sparse, but the laughs are plentiful in Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore’s production of Nunsense.
    Originally conceived as a line of greeting cards featuring wise-cracking Roman Catholic nuns, Nunsense was developed into an off-Broadway cabaret in 1985.
    In the past 28 years, Nunsense, written by Dan Goggin, has become the second-longest running off-Broadway production in history, spawning television adaptations and sequels.
    While the original play features an order of nuns known as The Little Sisters of Hoboken, the Toby’s production adds a personal touch to their production, changing the name to The Little Sisters of Dundalk.
    As the audience finds out as the play unfolds, the Nunsense revue was developed by The Little Sisters of Dundalk as a way to raise money for funeral expenses after the convent’s cook accidently poisoned 52 of the order’s nuns.
    With just 19 sisters left alive, five of the nuns put together a stage show to raise the necessary funds.
    The five nuns featured in the play are Sister Mary Regina (Jane C. Boyle), the order’s Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Hubert (Jesaira Glover), her second in command, as well as Sisters Robert Anne (Heather Marie Beck), Mary Amnesia (Elizabeth Rayca) and Mary Leo (Celia Blitzer).
    As the play’s program, cleverly designed as if it were the program for the sisters’ play-within-a-play, notes, the Little Sisters of Dundalk all teach at the fictional Mount Saint Helen’s School in Dundalk.
   

The play begins with a bit of backstory before the five sisters launch into a rousing opening number, “Nunsense is Habit-Forming.”
    From the start, the production is high-energy and upbeat, drawing the audience in and holding them until the very end.
    Both director Mark Minnick and musical director Pamela Wilt lead their cast in delivering rousing performances full of comedy and heart.   
    In “A Difficult Transition,” the sisters explain the history of their order in song, voices blending seamlessly in perfect harmony.
    Following this song, Sister Mary Amnesia, a cheerful amnesiac ably portrayed by Rayca, quizzes the audience on the order’s history, handing out small prizes as correct answers are given.
    Other highlights of the first act include “Benedicite,” performed by wanna-be-ballerina Sister Mary Leo. As Mary Leo, Blitzer effectively hits all the right notes, maintaining a charming, cheerful naiveté throughout.
    In “So You Want to Be a Nun,” Rayca’s skilled operatic voice and spot-on comedic timing is showcased as she (and her slightly off-color, wise-cracking puppet) sing of life in the convent.
    The order’s leader, Sister Mary Regina, is ably portrayed by Toby’s veteran Jane C. Boyle.
    Deftly leaping from stern Reverend Mother to musical comedian, Boyle convincingly fills both roles.
    In “Turn up the Spotlight,” Boyle’s talents shine as she sings of her life before the convent —performing in a family tightrope act — in a song that manages to be both yearning and, at times, silly.
    Act Two ups the hilarity as Sister Robert Anne leads the way with a series of silly impressions.
    Portraying streetwise, sneaker-clad Brooklynite Robert Anne, Beck again displays her chameleon-like ability to truly become the character she is portraying.
    A veteran Toby’s performer, Beck’s Robert Anne is light-years away from her recent turns as cheerful Australian Kira in Xanadu or capable upper-crust Grace Farrell in Annie.
    Ably pivoting from wacky to serious, Beck’s Robert Anne then sings of her own troubled past in a touching number called “Growing up Catholic.”
    One of the highlights of act two comes as Sisters Robert Anne, Amnesia and Leo embody the Andrews Sisters, the popular Big Band-era harmonizing trio, in a number called “The Drive-In.”
    The number concludes with one of the play’s funniest bits as the sisters show a film in which they have been spliced into scenes from popular movies.
    As the play winds to a close, Sister Mary Amnesia has a breakthough in the country-flavored “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” and the sisters’ predicament ultimately comes to a conclusion.
    The play ends with the soulful, showstopping “Holier Than Thou,” led by Glover’s brassy Sister Mary Hubert.
    In performing “Holier Than Thou,” Glover’s powerful voice hits the back of the theatre, marking her as one of the play’s most skillful singers.
    As the other sisters back her up with tambourines, lights flashing and music blaring, the revue ends on an upbeat, high-energy note that sends the audience dancing out of the theater.
    Throughout the production, there is just one set and one costume (a nun’s habit) for each performer.
    Working with such a sparse set and costumes, the true talents of the five women onstage shine clearly, making Nunsense one of Toby’s most laugh-out-loud productions to date.
    Nunsense at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore is a righteous good time but if you want to see it you had better hurry —the production only runs through Sunday, July 14.