What’s all this nonsense about the Bickford Theatre staging an unprecedented summer musical?
The professional resident theater company at the in Morris Township is normally dark in the summer aside from children’s activities and the occasional one-nighter.
Divine providence, though, intercedes this year as Artistic Director Eric Hafen has whipped up a production of the reliably entertaining musical comedy “Nunsense.”
Sure, this off-Broadway phenomenon has been done—done to death some would say. The program claims 5,000 productions worldwide in 21 languages since 1985. Then there are the six sequels and three spinoffs in what has become a lucrative show-business brand for playwright Dan Goggin (who launched the funny nuns concept as a line of greeting cards).
So what’s in it for potential theater patrons, most of whom have either seen “Nunsense” at least twice or have consciously avoided it so far? Well, for one thing, the premise has something for everyone—reverent characters singing, dancing and dispensing irreverent humor appropriate aimed at grownups but suitable for middle schoolers.
The plot flirts with bad taste—we are attending a variety show staged by the Little Sisters of Hoboken to raise funds for the burial of four sisters who died of food poisoning and are cooling their rubber heels in the convent freezer.
Catholics and non-Catholics may laugh harder at distinctly different jokes, but the laughter crosses theological boundaries on several occasions. Better yet, even the groaners—like “How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it!”—bring the house down because nuns know how to tell a joke. Trust me here. I spent enough time in Catholic education to know this to be true.
Goggin clearly knows it as well, which brings us to another good reason to see this enjoyable production. Like Goggin, Hafen is a former seminarian and understands the territory. He’s also produced and directed Nunsense” several time during his career, although never at the Bickford. “Nunsense” can go a little over the top in lesser hands and come off as occasionally mean-spirited, but Hafen makes sure to preserve the dignity of the characters, who are consistently well-meaning even in their worst moments.
It’s also worth noting that unlike many of the scores of “Nunsense” productions that have passed through North Jersey, this is a professional production with a first-rate cast. Gwendolyn F. Jones, who frequently has played Mrs. Santa Claus in the annual Radio City Music Hall “Christmas Spectacular,” is round, loud and blustery as the authoritative Reverend Mother Mary Regina.
She also possesses a powerful singing voice, as do most of the others, including Kristen Michelle as Sister Mary Amnesia, Katie Mott as the stage-hogging Sister Robert Anne, Amanda Yachechak as the eager novitiate Sister Mary Leo and Geraldine Leer as Sr. Mary Hubert.
The ladies also do a good job interacting with the audience during several improvisational moments that are a big part of the “Nunsense” experience.
Throw in a few Jersey jokes for the home-team crowd and it’s clearly time for Morris County residents to support the sisters and their theater.
“Nunsense” runs through Aug. 12 at the Bickford Theatre, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morris Township. Tickets are $20 to $45. For information, call 973-971-3706 or visit www.bickfordtheatre.org.