Review: Nunsense by Tex-Arts
by Michael Meigs

A third production of Nunsense within 13 months! The Georgetown Palace did it in August of last year; Austin's City Theatre put it on this past June; and now Tex-Arts in Lakeway has just finished a three-week run.

Marijane Vandivier as Mother Superior Mary Regina (photo: Tex-Arts)I almost didn't go, but Taylor T. posted comments on the "upcoming" item on the ALT blog, not once but twice, and told me that there was something extraordinary going on out there. So I found the time and Tex-Arts kindly found a seat for me.

I'm really glad I got the chance to see Tex-Arts' version of Nunsense.

Of course, the script for this show is sure-fire. It's a 1985 phenomenon that Dan Groggin originated as a line of "funny nun" greeting cards, then crafted as a music-hall surprise success. Groggin's Nunsense website says that it has had more than 5000 productions and has played in 21 languages; Wikipedia reports more than 6,000, in 26 languages. Groggin has continued happily to mine that vein, too -- an 8th new show in the Nunsense series, "Sister Robert Ann's Cabaret Classroom," has just opened in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

A quick recap, for those who have been sleeping in the back of the class (sparing you a nunly rap on the knuckles with a ruler). The audience is greeted by five nuns in old-fashioned habits, who explain that they're putting on a talent show. Due to an unfortunate accident, their order has been suddenly diminished by botulism in the vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia (Child of God) {genuflect}, and they have to raise funds to bury the last four nuns, currently waiting in the freezer.


That over-the-top premise gives us a night of skits, jokes and outright vaudeville, one that reminds the laughing audience that nuns are human, too. Marijane Vandivier as Mother Superior Regina with the light Irish lilt tries to keep the others in order, but that effort is about as successful as a farmwife herding fluffy chicks in an open field. She has a twinkle, though, and she can tell a good story; and the first act gives that prim matron a chance to get rip-snorting happy, literally, contrasting that somber black-and-white habit with another type of habit entirely.


Patty Rowell, Emily Bem, Ashley McKay (photo: Tex-Arts)

There's a mischievous joy in this cast, and we share their good time. Tough gal Emily Bem, gently amnesiac Patty Rowell, and graceful dancer Ashley McKay have their individual numbers and they hit it in fine boogie-woogie-Andrews-sisters style, complete with military caps, in The Drive-In.  

This production has the Tex-Arts stamp on it, with highly accomplished vocals and lively stepping. Ashley McKay, who is grace and reach in ballet slippers, is happy syncopation in tap shoes. And now having heard Patty Rowell let it rip for "I Could've Gone to Nashville," I understand why the audience at the Georgetown Palace loves her.


(photo: Tex-Arts)

A special stage trooper's award goes to director Bambi Jones from New York, who stepped in to play Sister Mary Hubert when a cast member fell ill. Jones is an attractive, agile and serene comedienne who really gets it going with her gospel finale "Holier Than Thou."

Lakeway isn't far from Central Austin, and Tex-Arts is easily located. I was there last year for their Always, Patsy Cline, and I was pleased to find that seating in the Kam & James Morris Theatre now benefits from additional risers that improve sightlines. 

A friend and fellow theatre enthusiast who happened to be there that evening noted that Tex-Arts' classes and other activities are going strong, and they've added another studio space. Robin Lewis now works part-time teaching at the vigorous musical theatre program at Texas State, but that hasn't slowed down the enterprise. Look for further good things to come in Lakeway.



Click to view excerpts from Tex-Arts program for Nunsense


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by Dan Goggin

September 25 - October 11, 2009
Kam and James Morris Studio, TexARTS
2300 Lohman's Spur
Suite 160
Lakeway, TX, 78734