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NUNCRACKERS, the NUNSENSE Christmas musical, at O’Connell & Company, continues the 30+ year-old tradition, good and bad.

THE BASICS: NUNCRACKERS, a musical sequel to NUNSENSE by the franchise originator Dan Goggin, presented by O’Connell & Company, directed by Drew McCabe, starring Susana Breese, Mary Craig, Mary Moebius, Ann Mosner, Mary Kate O’Connell, and Michael Starzynski opened on November 29 and runs through Sunday, December 23, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 at The Park School, 4625 Harlem Road, Snyder (848-0800) Soft drinks, wine, water, snacks, basket raffles. Early arrivals are treated to some festive caroling by the nine young people in the cast. Runtime: Two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  We drop in on the taping of the first “Cable Access TV Special” with the sisters (all from previous NUNSENSE shows) plus Father Virgil and nine of Mt. Saint Helen’s most talented students. NUNCRACKERS has new songs, familiar carols, the same NUNSENSE humor (good and bad) as usual, a “Secret Santa” (with mild audience participation), an off-kilter version of Tchaikovsky’s NUTCRACKER Ballet, a “living nativity,” and a cooking segment where we learn the secret of successful fruitcake. During the “taping” things get broken, lost, or stolen; the police are called; the sisters resist temptation; confusion reigns, and it all ends happily.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This musical is one of the many sequels to the 1985 off-Broadway success NUNSENSE, including NUNSENSE II (THE SECOND COMING), SISTER AMNESIA’S COUNTRY WESTERN NUNSENSE, MESHUGGAHNUNS, NUNSENSATIONS, NUNSET BOULEVARD, NUNSENSE A-MEN, SISTER ROBERT ANN’S CABARET CLASS, and, of course, the show currently at O’Connell & Company, NUNCRACKERS. The franchise has a website if you’re interested.

Highlights of the current production include the pre-show caroling by the students and the “Mt. Saint Helen’s Studio Band” of Cindy Bottoms-Noller on keyboard and Mary Moebius on percussion (wearing a habit for the entire show).

The singing of Michael J. Starzynski (as Father Virgil) was outstanding as was his Julia Child inspired cooking segment which revealed, if not the true meaning of Christmas, at least the true purpose of that often-maligned holiday treat – fruitcake. The pacing of that segment was spot-on.

Regular readers of my reviews know of my distaste for stage children, those smarmy little creatures whom you know carry their resumes and head-shots with them at all times. Having said that, many of these elementary and middle school students that O’Connell & Company has signed on do have some previous experience, but they present themselves as just very nice, very hard-working (they’re on stage all night long) kids.

On opening night those kids were Lily Flammer, Jack Flammer, Alejandro Pérez, and Mira Haley Steuer along with “Team RED” (for the first four and final four shows) made up of Lucy DiLauro, Maeve Garvey, Adelaide Garvey, Camden Parzy-Sanders, and Millie Schultz. From December 6 through the 16th, you’ll get “Team GREEN” which will be Myles Cerrato, Talia Cerrato, Nadia George, and Max Goldhirsch.

As a card-carrying curmudgeon, I might have to alter my Grinch-like opinion of kids on stage. Maybe. At least for this show.

As a card-carrying curmudgeon, I might have to alter my Grinch-like opinion of kids on stage.

While a lot of the humor is forced (admittedly sometimes on purpose) one of the truly cleverer lyrics uses the titles of 25 Christmas Carols as the primary lyrics, as in this sample from the official “Nunsense” website.

And there’s a send-up (complete with Village People headwear) of “In the Navy” called “In the Convent” that’s pretty good.

Just as with the current sold-out run of OVER THE TAVERN, THE MUSICAL at MusicalFare, which is also a nostalgic look back at growing up Catholic, the material may be plowed over but it’s still fertile ground for laughs. And, as over at MusicalFare, the less polished the performance, the more awful the jokes and puns, the more innocent it all seems.

Speaking of innocence, however, on the downside, in 2018, (especially in Buffalo? even in Buffalo?) Catholic humor may not be quite as successful as it was back in the 1980s. There are several reasons for this: Society in general is much more secular; many Catholic schools in the area have closed or consolidated and if open have mostly lay teachers (not nuns), and over the years there have been dozens of shows and stand-up routines about growing up Catholic so the concept may, for some, be getting old.

And, the patriarchal structure of the church is no longer acceptable to many. The cover-ups of the pedophile priest scandals have done great damage. And though the target audience for O’Connell & Company is baby boomers who did grow up taught by nuns, and who may be nostalgic, there are time when it’s difficult to separate nostalgia from nausea. For example, in NUNCRACKERS there is a scene where a priest is comforting a young girl. He sings her a song, gives her a wrapped gift, and then steps behind her and puts both his hands on her shoulders. After the show I checked in with several female audience members and they, too, were extremely uncomfortable during that scene. Yes, in the musical it’s innocent; however, “the optics,” as they say, were all wrong.

So, as you can tell, I still have my issues, but if you’re in the target audience, you will probably be pleased.

Photos by Katherine Kenwell Cich

UP NEXT: Buffalo’s A.R. Gurney’s LOVE LETTERS “featuring a rotating cast of WNY’s favorite actors” from January 31 through February 24. And for those whose Revolutionary War fever has risen thanks to HAMILTON, O’Connell and Company will offer 1776 with an all-female cast. Also, not at the Park School, but at Shea’s Smith Theatre, BETSY CARMICHAEL’S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL runs December 14,15,16,21,22, and 23.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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