What happens in Vegas really should stay in Vegas

Good songs and performances, but premise is played out

Did you hear the one about the five nuns in Vegas? Even if you haven't, it seems like you have. And that's the trouble with "Nunsensations! — The Nunsense Vegas Revue."

The show is the seventh in writer Dan Goggin's "Nunsense" series, which began in 1983 off-Broadway, where the original ran more than 10 years. Its success led Goggin to create "Nuncrackers," "The Nunsense Christmas Musical," "Meshuggah Nuns" and the rest.

Thirty years on, the habit is wearing thin.

The new production that opened Friday night at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland brings together five talented singers, a great Vegas lounge set and lots of energy. But in the end, that's not enough to overcome stale jokes and a major sense of deja vu.

This time out the Sisters of Hoboken have hit Las Vegas, where one of their parishioners got them a gig at the Pump Room Lounge to earn the $10,000 they need for their school. Like the Blues Brothers, sisters Mary Regina, Mary Hubert, Robert Anne, Mary Paul and Mary Leo are on a mission from God.

Will they survive Sin City? Will Sin City survive them? Will what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas?

Wrong question, because nothing happens. There's no plot here. The show the sisters do is the show the audience sees.

It's performed, with impressive brio considering the material, to a recorded soundtrack by John Taylor on Craig Hudson's delightfully cheesy set with the sisters clad in Kerri Lea Robbins' traditional-looking wimples and scapulars but eye-candy shoes.

There's situational humor, and relationships among the sisters are sketched for us, but it's mainly songs and cornball jokes, the latter frequently announced by a sister holding up boards that say SCHTICK, MORE SCHTICK and so on.

And in the jokes department, Goggin is running near empty.

"Her act is so blue she could be a Smurf (does anybody under 40 even know what a blue act is?)"

"What's the number for 911?"

And inevitably, "Is the Pope Catholic?"

Ditzy Sister Amnesia calls the Mustang Ranch a "horse house."

And how many times have we seen singers with toilet brushes and plungers as microphones?

"What Plays is Vegas" is an entertaining Vaudevillian number with some puns that will make you laugh. "From Vaudeville to Vegas" is a cute dance number that puts Sister Mary Leo (Suzanne Seiber) through her paces from ballet to soft shoe to tap.

"What's Black and White with Her Money on Red" is a clever, theatrical number for Sister Leo, Sister Amnesia (Laura Derocher), and street-wise Sister Robert Anne (Kimberli Colbourne).

"When the Chips are Down" is doo-wop with Sister Mary Hubert (Alexandra D. Blouin) and the sisters as a girl group in dark shades.

"Sin City Sue," which plays on the hick-in-the-big-city theme, is a nod to old-time Vegas choreographer Donn Arden, who more than anybody invented the image of the statuesque Las Vegas showgirl in sequins, feathers and outrageous headpieces.

The show's opening number, the big "Life is a Game of Chance," is a catchy enough show tune the first time you hear it, but is it worth doing four times?

The Reverend Mother (Ellie Holt-Murray) and the others doing a burlesque-inspired number with giant boobs and swinging tassels should have been funny but was just too predictable.

One of the best bits, a highlight of the show, was Sister Amnesia and Sister Mary Annette (who is a puppet, get it?) belting out a funny duet called "A Little Goes a Long Way."

One trope Goggin pulls out again and again is to set up a rhyme scheme in which the lyric leads inexorably to a word you can't print in a family newspaper, then pull the old switcheroo, but everybody mentally hears the naughty word and knows everybody else does too, wink wink.

There's some audience participation before the show proper, with a bingo game that gives Sister Robert Anne plenty of chances to crack wise on with slightly irreverent quips on each number drawn. There's a funny bit with a very cranky slot machine called Holy Roller. There are some good songs, to be sure, and some good performances.

But over all it's probably time for Goggin to take a solemn vow not to make this a perpetual profession.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.


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