Muny review: Little Sisters feel more at home on smaller stage

For the News-DemocratJuly 3, 2013 

Bigger is not necessarily better on The Muny stage. "Nunsense -- Muny Style" opened Monday with many in the audience eager to relive memories of their parochial education. While there were numerous uproarious bits, the musical didn't need the grandiose local embellishments.

A St. Louis all-girls schools' uniform fashion show, Catholic schoolgirls breakdancing and Ken Page as an added character Sister Wilhelm were superfluous and did nothing to disguise the fact that the show seemed ill-suited for the large stage.

At its best, "Nunsense" is good-natured in portraying the Little Sisters of Hoboken as a daffy bunch of nuns with an earnest mission: to raise funds to bury the remaining food poison victims of their convent.

That sparks hilarity -- mainly because distinctive personalities of five devout nuns are revealed as they share their talents and tell their stories in a talent show format.

Veteran Muny actresses took on the comedic roles -- Dee Hoty as the Reverend Mother, Beth Leavel as Sister Robert Anne, Tari Kelly as Sister Mary Amnesia, Terri White as Sister Hubert and Sarah Meahl as Sister Mary Leo.

Hoty was a hoot, in the Lucille Ball tradition, when she accidentally is chemically enhanced, and White was a brassy Sister Hubert with a booming voice to match, especially in her gospel number "Holier Than Thou."

Usually the Sister Amnesia character steals the show, but it was Beth Leavel as Sister Robert Ann who made the biggest impression. She had a lot of energy playing her street-smart character and clearly was an audience favorite.

The trouble was their uniform appearance in nun habits made it hard to distinguish who was who.

Hometowner Phyllis Smith of "The Office," who appeared in the supporting role of Sister Julia, Child of God, wore a bright red apron to set her apart. She struggled to get her bearings Monday night. The entire cast stumbled over their lines, an indication that the dialogue might have been under-rehearsed.

However, they certainly could kick up their heels and belt out songs.

The emphasis on big splashy production numbers made "The Biggest Ain't the Best" a gigantic tap dance, with the aid of the St. Louis Strutters, and it was a showstopper.

The gentle humor of "Nunsense" works well in an intimate setting, and some of the nuances were lost on the big stage.

But the audience laughed a great deal -- and seeing first-timers react to some truly funny scenes was fun to watch.

"Nunsense -- Muny Style" is at 8:15 nightly through Sunday at The Muny in Forest Park. For ticket information, go to www.muny.org

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