Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, February 2005
If you are looking for high art, go back to my front page and make your selection of award-winning shows running the in Capital District. If you want to have fun, go see Meshuggah-Nuns at Cohoes Music Hall.
The premise this time around, and it is a very thin one, is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken are on a “Faiths of All Nations” cruise. When everyone in the cast of Fiddler on the Roof falls ill except the actor playing Tevye, the ship’s captain asks the Sisters to use their “theatrical expertise” and team up with “Tevye” to help put on a variety show to entertain the passengers.
No one ever said that any of the Nunsense shows (there are at least five of them now) were great drama, but they are often great theatre, particularly when well cast. If these silly little musicals have done nothing else they have provided a great outlet for talented women who do not fit society’s definition of “perfect.” You do not have to be a size 2, busty, and blonde to play one of the Little Sisters of Hoboken – you just have to be talented. And casting director Kelly Briggs has found four of the area's best song-and-dance gals to wear the habits this time around.
In fact, this show should really be called “Gail’s Favorite Women Strut Their Stuff.” I cannot tell you how excited I was to open my program and discover that I was getting to see Eleni Delopoulos, Katherine Pecevich, Karla Shook, and Nakee Michelle White on the same stage. (There is a guy in this show too, and I’ll get to him in a minute.) How wonderful that these ladies, many of whom are not natives of this area and have active careers in theatre, film, and television, have chosen to grace the stages of the Capital District.
Delopoulos (Sister Robert Anne), who remarks in her program bio that she is getting a kick out of being a Jew playing a nun playing a Jew, is tall and lanky and loopy with a sweet voice. Pecevich (Reverend Mother), is a plump and pleasing person with a wide range of comedic talents and a good set of pipes. Shook (Sister Mary Paul aka Sister Amnesia) is a bright and bubbly belter, who doesn’t get nearly enough chance to show her dancing skills in this show. And White (Sister Hubert) is a big talent who is sorely under utilized in this show, (although she does get to play a giant squid), until she is allowed to let loose with a foot stompin’ Gospel style finale.
Whatever actor gets thrown into this whirlpool of talent had better be able to hold his own, and Gordon O. Hazzard (Howard Lizst) manages to do so by being low-key and exuding warmth. He is the placid vortex around which all the mayhem swirls. At first I wasn’t taken by him because he doesn’t really look like he would be cast as Tevye, in fact he didn’t really strike me as looking “Jewish,” whatever that means. But I warmed to him, especially as I got to hear more of his nice tenor voice in harmony with the ladies.
This is billed as the “Ecumenical Nunsense” and in that spirit I brought as my “date” a female Congregational pastor. She asked me to please point out to all and sundry that the term ecumenical is incorrect when used in this context. She can tell you all the Greek roots of the word, but in brief ecumenical has to do with relations between different denominations of the same faith, say between Episcopalian and Baptist Christians or between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This is properly the “Interfaith Nunsense.”
It is a pity that playwright and composer Dan Goggin isn’t quite up to the fun that could be had with the premise. There are two numbers where he attempts to echo the haunting pseudo-ethnic sound Jerry Bock created for Fiddler – Contrition, a pastiche of Tradition, and If I Were a Catholic, whose musical roots are obvious. Both ultimately fail, as does his so-called Klezmer number The Potchky Polka. And worst of all is the schmaltzy Fiddlerspeil in which the audience is forced to sing along. But his take-offs on the Village People (Matzo Man), the Andrews Sisters (Three Shayna Maidels), Sophie Tucker (My Fat is My Fortune) and the wonderful Gospel finale Rock the Boat are fabulous!
I am happy to say that my favorite nun – Sister Mary Annette, who proudly proclaims herself a Foam Rubber American – is along on the cruise. She pops out of hats and portholes just when she is most needed and does a nice Mae West number. Gee, four of my favorite actresses, my favorite puppet, and homages to two of my favorite “Red Hot Mamas” – Sophie Tucker and Mae West …not bad for an evening of silliness.
This is hardly an wonder as director Teri Gibson has a long history with the Nunsense franchise and worked with Felton Smith to create the original choreography for this show. Gibson understands how the flimsy script is really all about the performers, and she lets her quintet shine individually and as a team. The hilarious finale of Act I, a film parody entitled Das Boat in which all your favorite maritime disasters – the Titanic, the Poseidon, and the Minnow – are combined into one hilarious romp that concludes with pies in the face is a high mark for Gibson. Seeing both Mary Ann and Shelley Winters do battle with a giant squid (guess who wins?) is worth the price of admission. And the Laugh-In Joke Wall bits are both silly and nostalgic.
Producing Director Tony Rivera has designed a compact and workable nautical set which places the Meshuggah-Nuns band – Michael Snyder, piano; Graham Doig, synthesizer; John Van Voris, reeds; and Mary Rodriguez, drums – upstage center. Putting the band behind the performers, rather than in between them and the audience in a traditional pit, allows this show to be performed without body mikes. Hooray!!! These ladies and gentleman are professionals and do not need those dreadful devices to make themselves heard.
Allen Phelps has done his usual professional job with the lights – I would expect nothing less. Michelle Blanchard designed the costumes - inclduing many inventive pieces that fit over the women's "penguin" habits. Still can’t get over that squid suit…
By all means go and see “Meshuggah-Nuns.” It is good clean fun to which you can take the whole family and it is guaranteed to cure your cabin fever. There is plenty of time in life for heartache and drama on and off the stage. Laughter is the best medicine and two hours worth on a cold winter’s night (or afternoon) will do you a world of good.
Meshuggah-Nuns, presented by C-R Productions, runs weekends through March 13 at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street in Cohoes. The shoe runs two hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-237-7999 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2005