Director – Norman Ussery
Musical Director – Rebecca Lowery
Set Designer – Tony Curtis
Lighting Designer – Bryan Stevenson
Sound Designer – Bill Eickenloff
Costume Designer – Ryan Matthieu Smith
Sister Mary Regina/Mother Superior – Judy Keith
Sister Mary Hubert – La’Netia D. Taylor
Sister Robert Anne – Christine Chambers
Sister Mary Amnesia – Stephanie Felton
Sister Mary Leo – Cathy Pritchett
Chris Carfa-Bass Guitar
Reviewed Performance 5/18/2014
Reviewed by Zach Powell, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If one is looking for a carefree, warm, and jovial production, Theatre Arlington’s production of Nunsense will certainly provide the appropriate atmosphere. Before the musical, the staff of the theatre does an excellent job lightening the mood, interacting with the audience before the show, and providing an “opening act” as it were.
Several nuns and schoolchildren talk with the audience, helping to create an environment where the audience feels free to participate in the production of the show. A fun way to break down the traditional lines between audience and actors, it reminds one to enjoy the little things in life.
In this deviating vein, the story does not play a particularly important role in this musical. Rather, the story only serves to loosely provide a backdrop for the antics the five nuns carry throughout. While I normally prefer a story-driven production, I found myself not too terribly invested in the outcome of the tale, preferring to focus on the variety of talents presented by the cast.
Though completely appropriate for the musical, I found a few costume elements in Ryan Matthieu Smith’s design of the nun’s outfits a little distracting. Not every sister wore a rosary at the hip and the wedding rings worn by each sister did not reflect the simplicity of the rings of actual nuns. While the rings worn in this show may be those of the actresses, it did prove distracting to catch a diamond twinkling on stage. I also felt it inappropriate that one of the novice nuns wore a ring on her finger; in reality, novice nuns only wear a ring once they have completed the ascension to their order. Ultimately, this is a minor issue but nonetheless, is noticeable.
Laura West Strawser’s choreography was coordinated in a simplistic style. Nothing was overly complex or show-stopping, yet everyone appeared to be well rehearsed for their routine. The choreography reflected an appropriate level of wildness suited to those within a nunnery.
For the majority of the production, live music was provided through the use a piano, bass, and drums. Under the direction of Musical Director Rebecca Lowrey, she, Chris Carfa and Thomas Primozic worked well together. The music was not particularly complex, however, as continually noted through this review, it too was not necessary for this type of show. The background music was not distracting and reflected the variation of the moods developed throughout the story. This also lessened the chance for any possible technical glitches or sound mixing errors, making the production much more enjoyable.
At one point, a projector was used to display nun-themed movies showing at a local theatre. Unfortunately, this part of the show was foreshadowed as a task bar from the projector was displayed against the back wall. The task bar proved to be a bit distracting from the production of the musical until lilt was actually used in the show. Each of the five actresses acted admirably but two acting performances rose above the rest. La’Netia D. Taylor as Sister Mary Hubert and Christine Chambers as Sister Robert Anne shined in their roles, making it very believable they were actual nuns. As the play progressed, each actress was very comfortable in their roles, almost as if it was a natural extension of their lives off stage. Both of these actresses created endearing and roles, enabling one to pull for their cause throughout the show.
Taylor performed the best out of the cast; each emotion drawn from the course of the play was sufficiently portrayed. Her facial expressions were not overworked, each smile polite and giving, each frown showing true disappointment. Taylor truly embraced her role.
Chambers created the most endearing of all the characters. One could follow her tale from the rough streets of Brooklyn to the halls of Mt. St. Helens. Her rainbow socks and Converse sneakers embodied her personality, showing that while she can wear the habit, she can have fun too. With this type of role, one treads a fine line between character and caricature; Chambers stays on the side of character, meeting the challenge expertly. Judy Keith as Sister Mary Regina played a convincing authoritarian figure, clearly in charge of the convent. However, her Irish accent did not seem authentic, almost as if the accent was overworked. The accent was not terrible but hardly seemed natural. Keith did carry her role well though and she complemented Taylor and Chambers nicely.
Stephanie Felton as Sister Mary Amnesia and Cathy Pritchett as Sister Mary Leo tried a bit too hard in their performances. Each actress seemed to be working for a laugh from the audience at every possible moment rather than playing their character, “hamming it up” as it were. Jokes became less funny and their attempts detracted from their own roles and the overall performance of the other actors. At times they seemed nervous on stage and did not look comfortable.
Felton’s character was decidedly jovial and interacted well with the audience. Between administering a quiz to the audience and round of bingo, she easily connected with members of the audience. It was refreshing to have such a warm character truly seem to enjoy being displayed for the audience.
Pritchett’s character perhaps created the realest of emotions for the audience. One can easily put themselves in Pritchett’s character, wondering about lost dreams and the divergent path that led one to their current circumstances. Her performance actually gave me pause to reevaluate my life and wonder if I was putting my dreams on hold.
Each cast member sang well and their harmonies interacted well with each other in each group performance. “Nunsense is Habit-Forming”, “A Difficult Transition”, and “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” delineate this point best. The sisters interacted with each other on stage well and were gracious towards one in their singing abilities.
Felton as Sister Mary Amnesia had the best overall singing performance, especially on “So You Want to Be A Nun” and “The Drive In.” Chambers’ singing in “Playing Second Fiddle” and “I Just Want to Be A Star” was also performed well, singing quite well. Taylor’s Sister Hubert generated a soulful performance in “Holier Than Thou” and provided an excellent way to end this musical. I do not think there was one foot not tapping or head swaying during “Holier Than Thou’s” group performance. If one is interested in cooperative and well-coordinated singing, this musical proves to be just the ticket.
Nunsense, on the whole, created a nice breakaway from everyday life. Go see Theatre Arlington’s production to enjoy yourself and catch a few easy laughs. Get lost in the experience and interact with the cast and crew. It’s a fun, refreshing experience to connect with the members who put on the performance for you.
305 West Main Street
Arlington, Texas 76010
Runs through June 1st
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $22.00 and $20.00 for seniors/students. Groups of 10 or more are $17.50 each.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.theatrearlington.org or call their box office at 817-275-7661.