It’s a wonder the Little Sisters of Hoboken even make it to Sin City in “Nunsensations: The Vegas Revue!,” because the franchise is running on fumes.
Even though this anemic fifth sequel in the long-running “Nunsense” series is bolstered by some excellent singing from a quintet of strong performers in the new Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, the talented cast and veteran director Denise Graziani can’t do much to help an author whose creative fire in terms of wacky nuns is down to a last-gasp ember.
That writer would be Dan Goggin, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. His original “Nunsense” was a charming, touching and funny experience for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike — a romp that knew when to be just a touch scandalous and when to pull the sisterly heartstrings. A key to that first show was the way Goggin made sure we laughed with the nuns, not at them.
Subsequent sequels have delivered, with slightly diminishing returns — I haven’t seen all of them — on the same premise. With “Nunsensations,” however, Goggin demonstrates that he’s wrung just about every ounce of comic material possible from his trademark characters. (Alas, he’s written a sixth sequel, titled “Nunset Boulevard.”)
The five nuns are once again putting a show, this one in Vegas at the Pump Room in the Mystique Motor Lodge. (David Pierce’s set nicely captures that timeless decorating style known as Cheap Casino, and Andrea Henrickson has fun serving up some razzle-dazzle show-biz lighting moments.) They’ve made the trip from Hoboken at the bequest of a parishioner who has offered to donate $10,000 to the convent school if they do the show.
The variety show in which they perform is a blend of solos, group numbers and stand-up comedy shtick punctuated by interruptions and asides that give us a glimpse of backstage life.
The familiar gang is all back. There’s Sister Mary Regina (Tracy Jones), the Mother Superior, who alternates between hesitation at the propriety of nuns performing in public and gung-ho basking in the spotlight. Sister Mary Hubert (Janet Glaude), the second command, frets over having to clean up all the details left in her superior’s wake. Sister Robert Anne (Tami Cowger), the streetwise nun from Brooklyn, craves every solo she can get. The dainty Sister Mary Amnesia (Amalie Larsen) returns with her scandalous alter-ego nun puppet, who says the darndest things. And Sister Mary Leo (Dorie Sanders), is still plugging away in her quest to be a dancer.
They’re endearing characters, to be sure, and the cast works tirelessly to bring them to life. (Larsen and Cowger offer the freshest comic moments, and I liked the doo-wop ensemble number “When the Chips are Down.”) There are some decent-sized laughs for the holiday-theater crowd, and at several times the powerhouse vocals are rousing. But overall the material is pretty thin and uninspiring. Even the audience participation bit — which comes too early in the show in the form of a giant slot machine on stage — feels perfunctory. It isn’t the acting or direction that seems deficient; it’s the writing.
The grim tidings in terms of the music come early in the form of the second song, “T. and A. [Talent and Attitude],” which wants to be gregarious and cheeky but just stumbles along. The nadir of the first act is the bizarre “Cirque du Blimp,” featuring the Mother Superior wearing a headpiece in the shape of a dirigible, in an obscurely German musical ode to the Hindenberg. Crashing and burning is not an optimum way to end an act.
In the second act, poor Cowger has to grapple with an anemic “11 o’clock number” titled “Why Sing a Ballad” that just sort of sags musically.
In another bizarre twist, the show actually manages to be a little crass — and in not such a good way — with the number “The Fifth from the Right,” in which the sisters sling on Valkryie-style bare breastplates and twirl their tassels. (Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed designed the costumes.) Good for some raunchy laughs, perhaps, but borderline offensive for the Good Company audience and weirdly out of character.
More than anything, the show feels tired. When Regina and Hubert trot out the number “Double or Nothin’,” neither their strong vocals — both are in wonderful voice — nor determined stage presence can make this number seem more than a wannabe retread of “Just a Coupl’a Sisters,” which the characters sang in the original “Nunsense” about a Mother Superior and her lieutenant coming together in a bonding moment.
Perhaps the time has come for these sisters to rest on their past good works and hang up the show-biz habit.