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    South Hampton Press

    Nuns are back at Gateway, rejoicing in comedy


    By Lee Davis

    In a summer season largely devoted to musical extravaganzas, Bellport’s Gateway Playhouse schedule also usually includes a small show, presumably as a financial breather. The designation “small” typically has nothing to do with the degree of talent involved.
    As part of its gala 60th season, Gateway is currently including Dan Goggin’s compact, five-character, small orchestra fifth sequel to the original, one-gag-comedy “Nunsense” nonsense, “Mashuggah—Nuns!”
    It’s nearly axiomatic that sequels suffer diminishment from repetition. And while this fifth time around for a jolly concept has some routines that don’t quite work, and a few quiet spots, the current cast at the Gateway is so strong and spirited and wildly talented, they’re able to sail jauntily through the lesser moments.
    This time, the Hoboken sisters are on a cruise which has just survived a one-week storm that’s left them 
undiminished, but has laid low the entire cast, minus the lead, of the onboard production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Thus an excuse to send up, with warmth, not only Catholics but Jews and Broadway and whatever else enters the fertile mind of creator Goggin.
    All the usual suspects, plus one, are there The monumental Mother Superior; Sister Hubert, who still thinks she’s superior to the Mother Superior and should have the job; Sister Robert-Anne, the sanest of the bunch; and most energetically and wackily, Sister Amnesia, whose destiny it is to keep the audience roaring. Oh, and yes, now and then, the puppet nun, who handily increases the wildness of the proceedings.
    Joining them in their zany vaudeville, designed to keep the recovering passengers entertained, is Howard Liszt, the temporarily jobless Tevye. Possessed of a gorgeous, abundant voice and a twinkling sense of 
humor, David Edwards as the non-descendant of Franz Liszt more than holds his own in the goofy goings on, which he has also directed and choreographed.
    There’s a little something for everyone: For the over-70 crowd, Katherine Pecevich, as The Reverend Mother, flings herself happily into a channeling of Sophie Tucker, backed by the feathery, Follies costumed chorus. For the slightly less than very elderly crowd, there’s “Three Shayna Maidels,” a wild and woolly Andrews Sisters number. For the young, there’s “Matzo Man,” with the sisters rocking hard behind a gyrating Mr. Edwards. And there’s even a sing-along for the customarily willing and demonstrative Bellport audiences.
    As for fiddling around with “Fiddler:” “If I Were a Catholic,” done with swiveling dedication, is a show stopper, as is a Catholic take on Jerome Robbins’s bottle dance, done with particularly uproarious gusto.
    And then, there’s the dynamic cast: Jo Lynn Matthews is understatedly humorous and goes effectively and thrillingly gospel in the next-to-closing “Rock the Boat.”
    The Mugging Award of the century goes to the squeaky voiced Kristen Mengelkoch, one of the best Sister Amnesias this critic has experienced. Her constantly mobile face and body are always at warp speed and never less than inventively hilarious.
    As Sister Robert Anne, the relatively grounded nun, Erin Crosby uses her beauty and beautiful voice to deliver mesmerizing moments. She and David Edwards create a touching, transfixing mood with the exquisitely sung “A Love Like This.” And, given the 11 o’clock number, “I’ll Find a Song to Sing,” she stuns and rocks the house and elicits rightful cheers for her virtuoso vocal turn.
    David Edwards’s direction and choreography are right and bright; Barry Axtell’s set design is suitably tacky, as are Kim Hanson’s lighting design and Marianne Dominy’s add-on costume pieces.
    The sustenance of the habit forming fun of the Nunsense saga depends more than anything else upon stellar casts who share a great sense of the crazy and can marry that sense to split-second comic deliveries. The cast of the current Gateway production is a—if you’ll excuse the expression—heavenly union.

    Review: Meshuggah-Nuns at Gateway Playhouse

    By Roy Bradbrook

    Almost 25 years ago the first version of Nunsense opened off-Broadway and ran for an astonishing 3,672 performance, proving that religion can be as fun as audiences laughed at the antics of the Little Sisters of Hoboken. After eight new versions that have run all around the world and been translated into many languages, creator Dan Goggin decided to vary the theme by having the nuns be aboard a cruise ship where the entertainment is supposed to be a production of Fiddler on the Roof, but all the performers, bar one, are seasick and unable to perform. So Meshuggah-Nuns was born. Now for the language or religiously challenged, Gateway management has provided a glossary of Jewish and Catholic words and phrases, so you know from the title that these are going to be crazy nuns.
    Goggin is adept at being able to poke fun at ethnicity or religion without ever being disrespectful. So this really is a show where people can laugh unrestrainedly, just as this Gateway audience di throughout. It is whimsical and silly and another great way to take your mind off the recession, missiles aimed at Hawaii or the unrelenting rains of the past month.
    In the shipboard show, the nuns combine with the sole survivor of the Jewish cast, Howard Liszt (David Edwards,) who was scheduled to play Tevya, to provide the evening's entertainement and the theater audience is treated as though they are the ship's passengers attending the show. Edwards has shown his talents in previous productions at Gateway including a memorable Albin in La Cage aux Follies, a couple of years ago. As the sole male member of the cast, he more than holds his own against the body of assorted nuns lead by the formidable Mother Superior (Katherine Pecevich). Sister Hubert (Joy Lynne Mathews) has designs on becoming Mother Superior. Sister Robert Anne (Erin Crosby) seems relatively normal, but Sister Amnesia (Kristen Mengelkoch) is downright whacky as well as forgetful.
    The show doesn't follow any set theme but is more of a succession of sketches highlighting either a Catholic or Jewish theme, as when Howard explains to the Reverend Mother what some Yiddish words mean and how many non-Jewish people use them in everyday life. Later on Howard also muses on what life would be like "If I Were A Catholic." There are some good one-liners and a plethora of mostly bad puns sprinkled throughout. Among the highlights, look for Sister Amnesia's dementedly frenetic magic act, and the Reverend Mother's Sophie Tucker and Mae West impersonations, complete with dress accessories over her nun's habit. The nuns and Howard are hilarious as they perform "Matzo Man" in the style of the Village People, and while I am still not sure what a "Shayna Maydel" is, the three nuns' performance brings the house down with a high speed rendition, almost like the Andrews Sisters on speed. In a quieter moment, Crosby and Edwards combine for a beautiful duet, "A Love Like This," that explores the differences between secular and religious love and also gives an oppurtunity to enjoy their voices to the fullest.
    Apart from playing a leading role in the show, Edwards shows his versatility by being both the director and choreographer. The orchestra under Brendan Whiting provides good back up for the performers.