Theatre Review: ‘Nuncrackers – The Nunsense Christmas Musical’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “Nucrackers” at O’Connell & Company.

Pre-holiday stresses got you down? Let the Little Sisters of Hoboken cheer you up and chase the Grinch from your holiday spirit.

Make time to see ‘Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical ‘on stage at O’Connell & Company now through December 23. Yes, it’s another iteration of Dan Goggin’s Nunsense franchise (the third out of six sequels) with your favorite fun-loving sisters, this time producing their own cable TV Christmas special. Move over Charlie Brown Christmas, those Andy Williams’ Christmas specials from the 1960s, and the 24-hour marathon of “The Christmas Story:”  this Christmas special has plenty of songs, dance, comedy, skits, and a special cameo visit from everyone’s favorite nun-puppet St. Mary Annette.

Get thyself to O’Connell & Company and  remember that your true intention should be to sit back, relax, and just let the laughter happen.

If you don’t remember when Sunday night TV watching meant “The Ed Sullivan Show,” you won’t get why an old-fashioned variety show is rich with appealing moments. But for those of us who learned to love the planned disconnect between a country music singer (yes, with yodeling), some slap-stick comedy sketches, a dance troupe, and a cooking segment, “Nuncrackers” will take you back to this sweet and simple evenings with “all smiles and no frowns,” just like Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina says.

The show begins with some tunes from the Sisters and some selections by the students of their school, Mt. St. Helen. There’s  a Secret Santa gift offering (hint: if one of the Sisters hands you a Secret Santa coupon during the pre-show mingle, take it. Trust me. I scored a St. Anthony medal.  Sister Mary Regina reminisces about “A Carnival Christmas” from her secular youth. While the order’s cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, makes an emergency trip to police headquarters, Father Virgil takes over her cooking segment and takes a few nips of the fruitcake rum.  There’s an audience participation sing-along, a plea for vocations (the Sisters haven’t replaced all of the 52 Sisters who passed to their eternal reward in the first Nunsense show), and a segment about the Catholic Home Shopping networks commercials. You get the picture.

Where Goggin’s plot is Hallmark-movie thin, (“Sisters, let’s put on a show on cable TV”), it’s the cast – this cast – that makes it all sparkle like twinkle lights on tinsel.

Susanna Breese is charming as Sister Mary Paul, otherwise known as Amnesia, the sister whose memory vanished when a crucifix conked her wimple-clad noggin. Mary Moebius is Sister Leo who wants to fulfill her childhood dream of being a ballerina (nun-erina?) only to suffer a minor injury minutes before her first on-camera pirouette. Ann Mosner is the cut up Sister Robert Ann, jumping all over the stage in hightop sneakers with lots Brooklyn bravado. Michael Starczynski is Father Virgil, the Friar with a sense of humor and a taste for spirits.  Mary Craig is (almost) all business as Sister Hubert, mistress of novices and the second in command. And then there’s Mary Kate O’Connell in her signature role as Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina, complete with a clicker and a cheerfully firm reminder to the cast to have “good attitudes everyone.”

The real stars in this show are the students under the Sisters’ careful tutelage at Mt. St. Helen School.  Lily Flammer, Jack Flammer, Alejandro Perez, and Mira Haley Steuer have credited roles as they lead two alternating teams of ensemble castmates. The kids are in almost every scene, from the pre-show carol-fest warm up to the grand finale. They sing, dance, and throw lines like pros. What I like best is that these kids are real kids, not slicked up pageant kids tossing exaggerated winks at the audience. Director Drew McCabe let their utter adorableness take center stage.

If you’re looking for a deeply meaningful night of theatre…well, there are some pretty special moments in Nuncrackers. Starczynski’s “The Christmas Box” is a beautiful  reminder that Christmas presents are fleeting and the presence of love is the real gift. Mosner’s “Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn” is not the comedic story the title suggests: it’s a rite of passage story-song about a young girl’s troubled family. If this particular song – with its soft lyrics and lovely story – is perfectly suited to her character’s tender side, Mosner really sells it a few tunes later in “All I Want for Christmas…” (“…is a one-night stand at Carnegie Hall”) with a melody and arrangement that’s a better match for her natural voice.  Some of the bits are showing their age (this show was written almost 20 year ago), with reference to vintage work-out videos, an on-stage appearance of a salad shooter, even the idea of cable-access TV. But even the passage of time can’t make the Village People-esque song “In the Convent” (yup, you’re humming that now in your head, aren’t you?) any less hysterical, especially when Mary Craig channels Aretha for a chorus of C-O-N-V-E-N-T.

So leave the serious theatre in the room where it happens where it’s quiet uptown. Get thyself to O’Connell & Company and  remember that your true intention should be to sit back, relax, and just let the laughter happen. And keep your feet on the floor (Sister Mary Regina will call you out if your legs are crossed), and banish your impure thoughts.

“Nuncrackers: The Christmas Musical” is a fast moving 90-minutes with one intercession, I mean 15 minute-intermission, now through December 23. For more information, click here.