This cleverly constructed brainchild of playwright-composer-lyricist Dan Goggins may have seen crisper productions, both vocally and choreographically. But, if for no other reason than to witness in person the effervescence brought to the stage by Broadway and Hollywood legend Betty Garrett, this incarnation of Goggin's spin on Catholic humor is a must-see.
Serving double duty as director, Goggin has penned new material. The Little Sisters of Hoboken must raise funds to bury a quartet of their fellow nuns, victims of Sister Julia, Child of God's tainted vichyssoise. In the original version, this beloved purveyor of putrid provisions remains unseen. With Goggin's dramaturgical aid, Garrett, in high-stepping fashion, makes the most of the new character. Whether tapping, ably carrying her added solo, "One Last Hope," or exhibiting spot-on comic timing, this octogenarian powerhouse keeps up with theatrical counterparts half her age.
Lee Meriwether, displaying a smoky yet appealing singing range, captures the essence of the street tough Sister Robert Anne with style. Her quest for the spotlight tugs heartstrings in "Growing Up Catholic" and "I Just Want To Be a Star." As Sister Mary Leo, the novitiate who begins her day in toe shoes, Bridget Hanley perfectly executes Deborah Del Mastro's intentionally disastrous choreography. Her interpretation, with Meriwether as second banana, of "Soup's On"—aka "The Dying Nun Ballet"—is a hoot. So too, is Barbara Mallory's squeaky voiced, air-headed Sister Mary Amnesia. Struggling to regain her character's memory, Mallory, accompanied by a foul-mouthed puppet, Sister Marionette, rips through "So You Want To Be a Nun" with ease and gleefully discovers her true identity in "I Could've Gone to Nashville."
A minor quibble with Rhonda Stovey's Sister Mary Hubert, second-in-command, and Sandra Tucker's Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina. Both suffer from the wink-wink, nudge-nudge syndrome. Tucker, in particular, loses the payoff in her popper-sniffing scene, having watered down Goggin's officiously strait-laced character earlier in the show. Joannie Coyote's script-hemmed costuming is habit-forming, while Yancey Dunham's lighting of the Mount Saint Helen's middle-school set of Grease, credited to Joseph M. Altadonna and Daniel Keough, is effectively charming.
"Nunsense," presented by and at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. Jan. 20-Mar. 6. $27-30. (323) 851-7977.