The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021

VWCT’s ‘Nunsense’ well worth watching

P.S. LUHN/special to the VW independent

I remember the first time someone told me about a new musical by a guy named Dan Goggin that essentially has Catholic nuns singing and dancing. I had some flip remark like “who wants to watch a bunch of penguins singing and dancing on stage?” After I saw the show, I was singing and dancing a different tune. The show was unique, cutting edge, and extremely entertaining.

This was many years ago, and this “genre” has been so successful that many spinoffs have been penned by this musical wizard, all wonderfully entertaining. I haven’t seen them all, but I know they’re still being done everywhere.

So, when Van Wert Civic Theatre put this one on their schedule, I wasn’t even worried what the story line was. I just knew these “penguins” were going to knock me out. And when I saw the list of actresses directors Amy Boley and Jerry Zimmerman had lined up to populate this cast, I was nearly salivating with anticipation. Many of the crazy characters I’ve seen and acted with are the very best you can find anywhere around. When I wrote my pre-review I ended it with “Can’t wait!”.

I took some friends from the Lima area to see the show. They had not seen many musicals at VWCT and I admit I pumped them up a bit about the kind of talent they would witness in this production. The reality did not disappoint, as my companions were highly impressed and complimented the cast again and again.

The story line of this musical goes like this:  The Convent of the Little Sisters of Hoboken is putting on a benefit to raise funds. Due to a tragic cooking accident, 52 of the sisters were poisoned by some improperly cooked vichyssoise. The sisters buried their dead. All but four, that is, which they have stored in the freezer, until they can raise the funds to properly inter their … sisters.

So the idea is, the convent is staging a “revue” showing off the talents of its residents. Now, I don’t always care for revues, but Goggin, and directors Boley and Zimmerman, never let me believe I was watching a musical revue. Just a bunch of habits having fun.

At the top of the talent list are a group of five incredible young ladies. They each get a terrific chance to show off their voices, their dance moves, and their acting depth as the multiple leads. Mother Superior Mary Regina is portrayed by veteran Mary Ann Falk, a VWCT regular for many years. The put-upon Mary Regina is trying to hold her show together amidst an investigation by the local health department, which is about to discover the four blue nuns in the freezer. Falk drops my jaw every time I see her in something new. In this one I got to see how great her comedic prowess and timing can be. Her funny Rush routine was one of the high points of the show.

As Mary Regina’s right hand, er, man, Stacy Rife is Sister Mary Hubert. She didn’t get to show us too much, at first, but later in the second act we got to experience her subtle (and not so subtle) humor, as well as her incredible voice control. Her solo “Holier Than Thou” was amazing.

Debbie Briggs, an actress from the Lima area makes good things happen wherever she goes. She gives us Sister Mary Leo, the nun who grew up wanting to be a dancer and will never quite get the chance in the convent. But she kicks it in this production. Briggs’ voice is professional and friendly, by itself, in the several trios, etc., or in the chorus. She does dance superbly as well.

The best voice in the show — in fact, in almost any show around here — belongs to Nancy Williams Shuffle, who gets paid to sing. Often. She is Sister Mary Amnesia, a woman who has had a large crucifix fall on her head and is not good at remembering anything, including her real name. I marvel at Ms. Shuffle each and every time I am afforded the pleasure of seeing her. She can hit the high notes with anyone, sometimes causing audience members to catch their breath as she does. In addition, she is the consummate actress, brimming with personality.

The fifth of these unbelievable beauties is Kristin Lee, a teacher in the Lima City Schools. If Ms. Shuffle brims with personality, Ms. Lee literally explodes with it. Perhaps it is because the part of Sister Robert Anne encourages over-the-top behavior, and perhaps because the actress herself is a-bubble with verve. At any rate, easily the most fun to watch in this musical is this star wannabe and her mad desire to capture the spotlight. Again, I have seen Kristin for many years. She always finds something new and exciting to bring to me. Her “I Just Want to be a Star” had the audience rocking.

Five others were having a blast, even though they were not given a great deal to accomplish by the playwright. Kelly Beise, Evan Joseph, Emily Gehle, Alyssa Taylor, and Hatti Bouillon all made the best of smaller roles, obviously enjoying themselves.  The last three are personal favorites.  I have seen them grow up at this theatre, and I am quite pleased for their progress and their enthusiasm. They were in every scene, no matter the size of their parts in those scenes. Ms. Beise had the name envied by everyone, Julia, Child of God. This reference to current artistic event was not lost on the audience. Playwright Goggin has laced his script with these sometimes thinly, other times not-so thinly, veiled nuggets. The young man Joseph, who plays the parish priest, was terribly young for the part and, to my amusement, looked a bit swamped on stage with the assembled talent. But he never let up and kept up with the others in the dance numbers. He didn’t scrimp on volume, either.

As she always has, music director, pianist, and actual actor-with-lines Dee Fisher gives us a strong accompaniment. Her five-piece band was never overbearing and hit no major wrong notes. The music, well written by Mr. Goggin, was a perfect companion to the great voices on stage.

It is sad that Mr. Zimmerman has moved to Columbus. He is the best choreographer around, as well as maybe the best director and musical guru. This is probably his last show at VWCT, and it is a major loss for this part of the state, but more-than-likely a gain for the Columbus area. Good luck, Jerry!

This musical was a highlight of the day. I was refreshed and renewed by all the fun.

There are still chances for others to attend — Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.   Call 419.238.9689 today through Saturday to get a seat. And if you want great savings, buy a subscription that night in the lobby (visit www.vwct.orgfor more information about subscription options). I highly recommend that you see this show.

POSTED: 09/27/18 at 8:17 am. FILED UNDER: Arts & Entertainment, News