Stage West's production is a hoot and a half.
Published Dec. 12, 2014

If you liked Nunsense, Nunsense 2: The Second Coming and Nunsense Jamboree, you'll probably enjoy Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, playing at Stage West Community Playhouse. It's the fourth of seven Nunsense musicals about the adventures of the high-spirited Little Sister of Hoboken by playwright Dan Goggin.

This chapter is a good-hearted spoof of just about everything connected with the holiday - home-shopping channels, last-minute shopping, hilariously misunderstood song lyrics, the spirit of giving, and, of course, the beloved Nutcracker ballet.

Even if you haven't seen the previous episodes, the sisters fill you in so you can catch most of their insider jokes. It also helps to be of a certain age, so you'll get some of the cultural references - Sophie Tucker and the Village People, to name a couple.

The Stage West production has a fine cast, starting with the five Little Sisters of Hoboken, as well as the addition of three cute kids - Victoria Hernandez, Briana Rifino and Ryan Bradley - and a gentle neighboring priest. Director Wayne Raymond, who once appeared in Nuncrackers, does an excellent job of directing the actors and the three-piece combo, keeping the pace lively and the audience engaged.

A simple setup - the nuns are doing a cable access television special in the basement of the Mount St. Helen's Convent - is a pretext for sometimes touching, but mostly zany sketches and sight gags.

Many of the best laughs are provided by Victoria Primosch as Sister Mary Paul, formerly Sister Amnesia because she was knocked memory-less by a falling crucifix. She has recovered, and discovered she was the winner of the Publishers Clearing House grand prize, but she's still addled, and her takes on traditional Christmas songs have laugh-out-loud sight gags, some of which take a moment to catch. Ms. Primosch plays Sister Mary Paul as ditzy and awkward, but when she sings (The Three Kings), her demeanor is pure grace and her voice liquid gold.

Leanne Germann, reprising her role as former tough little street kid Sister Robert Anne, gets in some good singing licks on the melancholy Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn, about her errant father, and the comical All I Want for Christmas, about her yearning to be a star on stage for just one night. Matthew Veasey, as the warmhearted visiting priest Father Virgil Manly Trott, brings a sweet softness to his story of true caring, The Christmas Box. Patricia Villegas has just the right voice and tone as the gently commanding Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina. Toni Merchant provides nice movements as choreographer, as well as brief appearances as aspiring dancer Sister Mary Leo, who is unfortunately disabled early on and can't do Sugar Plum Fairy, throwing the planned Nutcracker ballet into a humorous duel of dancing between Reverend Mother and Father Virgil in frothy pink tutus.

And Angelena Burrow nearly brings down the house with her rousing It's Better to Give, a hand-clapping gospel number that really got the opening night audience in the spirit of things.

Nuncrackers is squeaky clean at first listen, but writer Goggin also included some lively double entendres that add spice to the holiday punch of a show and give it a grownup touch.

Opening night saw some miscues with the spotlight, which had to be handled by a newcomer when the original spotlight operator failed to show. As always, as in life, the second act is livelier and more fun than the first.

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At Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill, at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $10 for students and $12 college and active military (with ID). Call (352) 683-5113.