Theater review: Nunsense A-Men at 35below
Let’s face it: Church is a drag. But in the case of Nunsense A-Men, produced by Sarah Fowler in partnership with Asheville Community Theatre/35below, church is in drag. A gender-bending twist on the classic 1985 Nunsense revue by Dan Goggin, the production features five male sisters who raise their voices to the heavens and keep the audience laughing non stop.
Divided into a series of song-and-dance numbers, Nunsense A-Men is a cabaret style show held together loosely by a blackly comic premise: The chef Sister Julia, Child of God (get it?) has recently boiled up a bad batch of bubonic soup that has quite suddenly decimated the convent of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, New Jersey. What is the small band of surviving sisters to do? Throw a fundraiser, clearly, and we the audience are the enlisted donors.
Fowler — also the show’s producer, music director, choreographer and lighting designer — keeps the pace brisk and animates the wacky songs with stellar choreography and pitch-perfect casting. Indeed, each Sister has something to bring to the communal table.
The beloved Mother Superior, Mary Regina (Greg Austin) is the most conservative of the lot, admonishing her subordinates when their jokes are too lewd. This steely streak makes it all the more hilarious when she confiscates a student’s poppers and accidentally experiences a euphoric amyl rush. This episode, which may be the funniest in the show, demonstrates Austin’s ample skills as a comic performer.
Sister Mary Hubert (Bob Pompeo), meanwhile, as the second in command at Mount Saint Helens, is by turns friendly and rivalrous with the Mother Superior. Pompeo does a rousing job at leading the climactic final number, “Holier Than Thou.”
Then there’s Sister Mary Robert Anne (Mark Jones), a Brooklyn-born nun who rocks Converse sneakers and proudly sings about her tough upbringing. She delivers a surprisingly heartfelt message about the power of someone believing in you, and during her big number, “I Just Want to Be a Star,” brings poignancy (and a big orange boa), as well as major laughs.
Sister Amnesia (Andy Thompson), whose namesake memory loss was brought on by a falling crucifix, is a refreshingly meek counterpoint to her more boisterous sisters. That is until her big number, “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville,” when she breaks free of her placid brain freeze and belts a country showstopper. Sister Amnesia also leads a fun, interactive tangent, during which this writer utilized his own Catholic upbringing to correctly identify Saint Francis of Assisi to shocked audience approval.
Finally, Sister Leo (Corey Link) is the young novice at the Little Sisters of Hoboken. Link is definitely the most skilled dancer in the cast — fitting, seeing as Sister Leo’s burning ambition is to become the world’s most famous ballerina nun. She shines most during the tap number choreographed by Tina Pisano-Foor that closes the first act.
Entertaining though it may be, Nunsense A-Men isn’t a perfectly polished show and its comedy is most certainly of the goofy, un-woke, Mel Brooks variety. But for some good old-fashioned drag nun vaudeville, with “habit” puns and a tap dance number, you really can’t get better than this. It might not exactly substitute for a religious service, but darned if Nunsense A-Men doesn’t have some serious spirit going on.
Nunsense A-Men runs Jan. 11- 27, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, visit ashevilletheatre.org
(Photo courtesy of Asheville Community Theatre)