Downtown Cabaret, Bridgeport
First, the positives. Director/writer Dan Goggin is a gifted composer and lyricist, whose “Nunsense” shows always offer catchy tunes and clever lyrics. And indeed, audiences continue to respond happily as players in nun’s habits—the so-called Little Sisters of Hoboken--cavort across the stage. And, secondly, Goggin must be commended for his role in keeping Downtown Cabaret afloat during hard times, as the theater struggles to find financial backing.
But…one heartily wishes Goggins would put those Sisters to rest after so many sequels! Or let them quietly go about their business of directing young people into the paths of moral rectitude. Enough, already!
First time around, the story certainly had its charm. Goggin must have had a Catholic background, to be able to mine so much humor from this Nun’s Tale. The story, for those who have never been exposed to “Nunsense” shows, deals with the nuns of a particular New Jersey order who must raise money to bury four colleagues. It seems that Sister Julia, Child of God, was the cook whose bad soup accidentally poisoned most of the order’s nuns. And so, like Judy and Mickey, they decide to put on a show. It seems that each of the nuns has show-biz aspirations. The story is so outrageous that it is really an affectionate send-up of the nuns—in no way a stinging indictment of the Catholic Church.
But sequels, at best, are tiresome, and Goggin has milked it to its very limit, turning the Sisters and their antics into a cottage industry. “Nunsense” and its fall-out shows have traveled round the country, if not the world, and it’s likely that the sun never sets on these shows, much like the one-time British Empire.
This time around, in the Downtown Cabaret show, Goggin offers up the original “Nunsense,” but with a twist. It’s called “Nunsense A-Men!” Get it? The five Sisters are played by brothers—David Titus, Basil Rodericks, Danny Vaccaro, Joe Ceriello, and Doan Mackenzie--that is, male actors (with Bert Bernardi, Artistic Director of the Cabaret’s Children’s Company, as understudy). But this is no “La Cage aux Folles,” and there is simply no reason, no justification, for the gender switch.
Furthermore, though each player has his/her moment in the sun, with nicely-rendered tunes, clever puppetry, accomplished ballet moments, and one good comic skit, the cast as a whole is not as endearing as those of earlier “Nunsense” shows. Yet this “Nunsense” has its moments. Titus, as Mother Superior, shines in a comic bit when he/she accidentally becomes high on a drug. Joe Ceriello (Sister Mary Amnesia) plays puppet and puppeteer with skill, Doan Mackenzie gives an accomplished ballet turn, and Danny Vaccaro (Sister Robert Anne) sings a haunting piece about her old Catholic school.
But do we need yet another “Nunsense”—and in drag? In fairness, audiences do respond happily to this, the umpteenth version of “Nunsense.” And hopefully, Goggin and company have brought Downtown Cabaret one step closer to solvency.
-- Irene Backalenick
Feb. 5, 2006