Daily Bulletin - 4/13/99

-H.S. Wilson

'Nunsense' gets change of habit with 'A-men'

Regular patrons of The Grove Theatre in downtown Upland were likely confused this past weekend. As they entered the theater for the opening performances of the musical "Nunsense A-Men," the set for the theater's previous previous production of "Grease" was still on the stage with nary a pane of stained glass in view.

To make matters more bizarre, four "nuns" greeting patrons in the aisles looked about as sisterly as Ru Paul.

"Nunsense A-men" is so titled because grown men in habits are playing the Mother Superior, three sisters and one novice of the Little Sisters of Hoboken.

Written to be performed by women, "Nunsense" creator Dan Goggins was inspired to provide the hit musical's script for the gender-bending "A-men."

The reason for the "Grease" set (besides being economical for the Grove's producers) involves Goggins' plot - the sisters are putting on a show in the Mt. St. Helen's School Auditorium where the eighth-graders are performing the '50's rock musical.

The sisters are going into show business to pay for defrosting four nuns who weren't buried with the numerous others who were accidentally poisoned by the stew cooked by Sister Julia Child of God. Hopefully, that should clear things up.

If not, forget the plot (as this production has seemed to do) and just enjoy all the fun created by director Dave Masterson's delightful cast of musical comedy wonders.

Topping the list is actor/impressionist Frank Gorshin ("The Riddler" on TV's "Batman"). As the Mother Superior, Gorshin lends the touch of a seasoned pro. Gorshin give his role an easy-going deadpan style that occasionally lets loose with a "spirited" song or an expert impression.

While there are a few classic impersonations, such as Marlon Brando ("I'm the God-mother Superior") and George Burns ("I'm not one to play 'God'"), one may wish a few more - such as Cagney or Kirk Douglas - could have been meshed in. Still, the Gorshin is genuinely funny.

If there is a true miracle to this production, it is the supporting cast of sisters. Each actress, er, actor possesses musical comedy prowess. Their vocal talents come as close as one can get to good solid professionalism with heavenly help from musical director Brian O'Hallaran's capable three-piece band.

Veteran Grove performer Bob Stilwell is perfect as the overly proper Sister Mary Hubert who believes it necessary to correct his/her Mother Superior whenever possible.

Andrew Chutikorn displays a fun Bronx edge to his star-chasing Sister Robert Anne. Julio Villegas gives his ballet-dancing Sister Mary Leo a sublimely Latin turn.

Poor Sister Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head, comes off delightfully air-headed as played by William E. Kumm.

Since it is the guys getting together this time, the results are a bit bawdier and more risqué. But the most curious change comes with men playing their roles "straight." There seems a bit more sincerity and less of a forced cuteness. While a few bits have worked better with women, the majority of the play works just as well, if not better, with men.

The whole effort may not bring about a spiritual awakening, but you should have a fun, laugh-out-loud evening that will leave you humming the hymns.