Nuncrackers adds yuletide cheer to its popular sister act
Anyone who has followed Syracuse community theater for the last two decades will immediately recognize that Nuncrackers is another chapter in Dan Goggin’s ever-popular Nunsense franchise. Actually, it’s the third sequel IF IT’S THE THIRD, THAT WOULD MAKE IT THE SECOND SEQUEL; JUST SAYIN’ out of six, dating from around 1998. The title signals that there will be a partial spoof of the ballet The Nutcracker, and sure enough, that fills the frenzied 20 minutes before the first act’s curtain, although there are other musical parodies ranging from the Andrews Sisters to the Village People. And even though it does not contain holly, crèche figures, Scrooge or Santa, we know going in this is a Nunsense Christmas show. It’s also the holiday show from Encore Presentations at Jamesville’s Glen Loch restaurant.
The premise this time is that the nuns are still at Mount St. Helen’s School in Hoboken, and that through the efforts of Reverend Mother Mary Regina (M. Marie Beebe) the convent has acquired a cable-access TV studio. So Nuncrackers is a show about putting on a TV show that will feature The Nutcracker. (Going along with this, we often see the production’s stage manager, Jennifer Reilly, in a headset and dressed in kabuki-like black, so we pretend not to “see” her. She might move a prop or a flat, but does not speak.) For anyone following the Goggin series, we should expect the wannabe-ballerina nun, Sister Mary Leo (Kasey McHale), to dominate the action, but in a quirky plot device she has suffered an injury and has to sit out the show. McHale, out of wimple, also serves as a second stage manager.
Despie having been introduced in the 1980s, inspired by a line of greeting cards, the Nunsense franchise is really a kind of vaudeville show or a burlesque with no stripping. So much depends, even more than usual, on who answered the casting call. Making the decision and running the action is director Heather Jensen, whose ambitious staging of Urinetown for the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild won much favorable comment. She has assembled a batch of rookies along with more familiar faces cast against earlier type.
Ordinarily, casting the company’s coproducer as imperious Sister Mary Regina would make sense, and it’s happened in other productions. In the role, however, Beebe turns out to be a cuddly rather than crusty mother superior, a pal rather than a boss, but still with the chops for her Sophie Tucker-ish solo, “Carnival Christmas,” with straw boater and cane. Kathy Egloff has been highly visible recently, such as the unlikely Scottish mobster in Not Another Theater Company’s Unnecessary Farce. It turns out, however, that offstage she’s an elementary school band teacher and thus wields a mean tenor saxophone in the risqué “All I Want for Christmas is a One- Night Stand,” most fitting for tough-talking, Brooklynese Sister Robert Ann.
Veteran actress Rita Worlock is betterknown for glamorous roles (a memorable Maggie in a long-ago Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), but cover her up with a wimple and glasses, and she’s free to play up her inner comedienne as Sister Mary Hubert. We almost forget that Hubert was written with a black performer in mind, until Worlock blows out all the stops with the mockrevival number, “It’s Better to Give.”
Among the new faces, one is male.
Some of the bits that might have been given to Sister Mary Leo are handed over to a guy from the monastery, Father Virgil Manly Trott (Tyler Spicer), a name with a pun in it. Along with a solid solo, “The Christmas Box,” he too puts on a wimple to impersonate the convent cook, Sister Julia Child of God, the one whose name always prompts the sign of the cross.
The ultimate show-stealer is another new face, Ellen Kotzin as Sister Mary Paul, formerly known as Amnesia. An aspiring country singer, Mary Paul is usually played as ditzy and air-headed, a clerical Gracie Allen. Kotzin plays her as loud and impish, eager to upset any applecart. Kotzin puts zing into some of Goggin’s weariest puns. She also knows how to interact with the audience, handing out Ten Commandments refrigerator stickers: “Just peel off the ones you don’t like.” Then with a unique but little called-for skill, she can ad-lib repartee in Polish.
other Nunsense chapters, this cast also includes four children—David
Kempf, Marlina M. Beebe, and David and Emilie Hoy—who perform two
well-rehearsed numbers, “The Cat’s Away” and “Santa’s Little Teapot.”
Musical director Abel Searor smoothly navigates constant changes of
tone. And while Encore Presentations might be a start-up company with
limited means, many costumes, such as for the Three Kings, are
This production runs through Saturday, Dec. 17. See Times Table for information.