At one point at Thursday’s opening of “Nunsensations,” I became more fascinated by the audience member illegally shooting video on his phone than the musical number onstage. I think he was the performer’s grandfather. Don’t get me started on cellphones in the theater.
But I wander. And it was easy to do, I’m afraid, at this sixth installment in Dan Goggin’s cottage industry of clerical humor set to music. I confess (hah!) that years ago I enjoyed my first exposure to the singing sisters, finding amusement in the all-too-human behavior of religious types who generally aspire to be holier-than-thou, though these nuns are nothing like the hypocritical Tartuffe and Sister Mary Ignatius. Goggin just wants to make us chuckle, but on Thursday, I could barely muster a few smiles.
The conceit is this: Five nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken have been promised $10,000 if they’ll come to Las Vegas to perform a revue. For that amount of money they’ll happily visit Sin City and entertain the sinners.
WHERE: C-R Productions, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: Through May 19
HOW MUCH: $35-$25
MORE INFO: 237-5858, http://cohoesmusichall.com
The quintet is an assortment of types that play off of each other: Rev. Mother (Katherine Pecevich), a no-nonsense (nunsense?) superior; Sister Hubert (Cynthia Thomas), the self-described force behind the power; Sister Robert Anne (Jill Taylor Anthony), a tough-talking former gang member from New York City; Sister Amnesia (Jen Morris), whose name says it all; and Sister Leo (Ciara Cristo), a shy young woman who loves to dance and is not sure of her calling.
Over the course of two acts, they ostensibly perform for a casino crowd (us, whom they frequently address and involve), but some of their other conversations seem like ones that would happen backstage. (Don’t try to make too much sense of it.) And at one point, Sister Amnesia’s hand puppet goes missing, throwing the group into a tizzy. Mercifully (hah!) she finds it in Act 2.
Along the way, everyone wears boas and dances with fans; does tired vaudeville jokes; refers to a lot of people from a completely different era (Charo, the Smurfs and “Will & Grace” — references you have to think about too hard to get any pleasure from, meaning some serious updating is needed); and sings a number of largely forgettable songs, three of which (“Cirque du Blimp,” “Sin City Sue,” and “Hollywood & Vinyl”) are just plain bizarre.
The production fares better than the material, but even here there were some distractions: tacky items in the home shopping bit, sketchy lighting, molting feathers and Thomas’ preoccupation with her slipping glasses. No doubt things will tighten up as the run continues.
The actresses are a talented and hardworking bunch, however, and they execute director Tony Rivera’s choreography effortlessly and sing in sync with musical director Ryan Bolinger and his pit band. Thomas merrily leads the way on the amusing “YMCA” knockoff called “TTM ’n’ R,” while Cristo shows off her terrific pipes in “I Left Him There.” Thomas and Pecevich score in a couple of clever duets; Morris plays Amnesia with sweet daffiness laced with a savage tone; and Anthony’s Robert Anne is a wise-cracking team player. And before the show, they all deftly work the audience with a little improvisational banter.
A negligible script, I’m afraid, slightly redeemed (hah!) by some broad, confident playing.