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Wednesday, May 14,2014

Curtain call: Sisters act

Starlight’s ‘Nunsense’ musical gets surreal

by Tom Helma
The sisters in Starlight Dinner Theatre’s “Nunsense: The Mega Musical” are a far cry from the stiff-upper-lipped guardians of one’s soul in traditional depictions. This enthusiastic ensemble has reasonably good singing voices — and in the case of Sister Robert Ann, played by Amanda Dill, serious comedic acting chops as well.

What paltry plot there is Review borders on bizarre: 48 of a convent’s 52 nuns die suddenly of accidental food poisoning, and four of their bodies have been frozen in the food locker until time might provide a proper burial. “Nunsense” takes the idea of strange plots for a musical to a new level of surrealism.

The play moves along briskly, through an array of musical numbers in which various sisters get to shine, singing in solos and duets. Beth Webb as Reverend Mother Mary Regina belts out a semi-drunken show-stopping number ending Act I. Jane Zussman’s loopy Sister Julia Child-of- God shtick, in which she channels the original Julia Child, got much audience applause. A quar tet consisting of three brothers and a priest add a finely tuned barbershop harmony to the mix. Kudos to Marty Underhill, Charlie Martin, Dan Templin and Mike Barger for these melodic contributions.

There is audience participation here as well, with nuns interacting in character as they wandered through the spectators before the play and at intermission. This works well. Corny Catholic jokes cracked up the crowd. There are several sets of stand-up vaudevillian jokes, straight lines that invite pathetically pun-like punch lines that invite begrudging groans and the amused shaking of heads. Saturday night there was a sell-out crowd of close to 300 people, many of whom gave the performers a standing ovation.

“Nunsense” is a gentle play. It appeals to our sense of naivety and yet also reminds us that underneath the habits, nuns are real people, women who care, who give their entire lives to the service of others. It’s a nonsensical nod to nostalgia, designed not to offend but merely to amuse.

“Nunsense: The Mega Musical”

Starlight Dinner Theatre 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 16-17 (6:30 p.m. dinner) Waverly East Cafetorium, 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Show and dinner: $33/$28 seniors and students/$20 children 12 and under. Show only: $15/$10 seniors, students and children.

(Dinner reservations required 48 hours in advance.)

(517) 243-6040, starlightdinnertheatre.com

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