Anyone expecting the new Show Palace Dinner Theatre musical Nunsense A-Men! to be a drag queen show like, say, La Cage aux Folles is in for a surprise.
The show, playing through Sept. 13, is the original 1985 Nunsense, line by line, only it's done by five men in traditional black and white nun's habits with veils and tunics. Even before the opening number is finished, the fact that they're guys seems irrelevant.
It's still the same sometimes inane, sometimes profane story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing a variety show to raise money to bury four of their fellow (no pun intended) nuns who have been accidentally poisoned by the convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God.
The Little Sisters careen from sight gag to dance number to really touching song — Lilacs Bring Back Memories and Growing Up Catholic, for example — with energy, humor and wit, thanks to director Susan Haldeman's outstanding cast and playwright Dan Goggin's script, never mind that the material is often as dated as a Johnny Carson comedy skit and sometimes puzzling to those who don't catch the insider Catholic jokes.
The most and biggest laughs are provided by Show Palace favorite Matthew McGee as the Mother Superior. McGee gets most of the good lines, his over-the-top physical humor is hilarious, and his ad-libs, asides and break-ups slyly acknowledge that the 24-year-old show has whiskers in more ways than one.
He's ably backed by Nunsense A-Men! veteran Reggie Whitehead as the second-in-command, Sister Mary Hubert, a role he sang on the recent national tour CD; Joey Panek as the tomboyish Sister Robert Anne; Michael Ursua as the spacey Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when hit on the head with a tumbling crucifix; and Michael Titone as the ballerina wannabe, Sister Mary Leo.
Whitehead's energetic gospel number, Holier Than Thou, is a near showstopper. And Ursua's voice is almost too good as his Sister Amnesia dolefully laments I Could Have Gone to Nashville. With pipes like that, he could have gone to the Met.
Choreographer Shanna Sell, a Broadway show veteran who also choreographed the Show Palace's The Producers and Crazy for You, created time steps and two-steps that add oomph and action to the bouncy tunes.
Like the original, Nunsense A-Men! is short on story, but this production is long on talent and enthusiasm and takes advantage of every joke or line to milk some laughs from the audience.