Nunset Boulevard

by David A. Rosenberg

Why pay $100-plus to see a drag show like “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” in New York when, for much less you can wallow in “Nunset Boulevard” in Bridgeport? True, the nuns in the umpteenth incarnation of the irredeemably silly, affectionate, wearying “Nunsense” series are played by female actors. But their habits can’t disguise that these women are more like men celebrating and sending up women they both worship and envy.

The initiating gimmick this time is the Sisters of Hoboken finding themselves in California where, they assume, they’ve been asked to entertain at the Hollywood Bowl. Unfortunately the actual venue turns out to be the Hollywood Bowl-a-Rama, a mistake used to feeble effect in writer-composer-lyricist Dan Goggin’s show.

The plot, such as it is, has to do with the sisters’ going ga-ga over being in Tinsel Town, sparking them to audition for roles in a biographical film about Dolores Hart. You may remember that former ingénue as the rising star who kissed Elvis Presley in the 1957 film “Loving You,” then decided to become a nun and enter the convent in Bethlehem, Conn. (The jury is out on whether the two events were connected.)

Instead of exploring implications, the admittedly talented Goggin indulges in a string of revue-type sequences, consisting of old jokes, older impersonations and really old stereotypes. He trots out gay icons such as Bette Davis, Mae West and Gloria Swanson, throws in hoary references to Judy Garland in “Wizard of Oz” and spins parodies that will likely go over the heads of family audiences.

In between, theatergoers are prodded to participate in a quiz about movie nuns and play a Price is Right (here, Righteous) guessing game. Like the rest of the evening, the tone is light-hearted and non-threatening.

Many of the dozen-and-a-half country, ballad and blues songs are melodious, especially “Where is the Rainbow?” and “The Kid’s Gonna Make It.” The lyrics break no new ground, but the cast plunges in as if the words were by Sondheim and Hart. The tone is set at the beginning, when one of the sisters declares, “We’re here to entertain you.”

The cast, which seems to be having more fun than the audience, tap dances, wears funny hats, executes faux Busby Berkeley routines and gamely shouts out famous movie lines from “Casablanca,” “Gone With the Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

In the cast are Lisa Asher, Laurie Birmingham, Bambi Jones, Jeanne Tinker and Stephanie Wahl, all pros. As staged and choreographed by Teri Gibson, and directed by Goggin, they’re an amiable group, supported by a fine musical trio.

But the franchise, which started in 1983 as a cabaret act, is shopworn. Goggin might apply his considerable talents to fresher material. One’s reaction to the purported jokes (“His real name is Otis; He’s so famous he has his name on the elevator”) is “been there, done that.”

This review by Dave Rosenberg appeared in The Hour, Norwalk, Sunday, April 3, 2011:


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