Getting in on the 'Nunsense'

A ragtime-pianist priest and a dancing nun are among the four Maryland talents selected to appear in a local performance of Nunsense, which opens next month at the Lyric Opera House.

The comic tale depicts nuns who are forced to raise money to cover funeral expenses after most of their order succumbs to food poisoning. On Feb. 4, as part of a benefit-talent-show scene, Sister Teresa Leimbach will dance to a traditional Polish folk tune, and Sister Wanda Zdziarska will sing. Both are members of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate convent in Catonsville.


On Feb. 6, the local participants will hail from the Monsignor O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks - Father Kevin Mueller will play ragtime piano, and Gary Meyerl, associate director of the Retreat House, will juggle.

The participants were chosen at auditions held at the theater last month. They will appear on stage with stars Kaye Ballard, Georgia Engel and Darlene Love. Nunsense will run Feb. 3-8 at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $20-$55. For more information, call 866-597-4200.


'Sweeney Todd' change

There's been a casting change in Center Stage's forthcoming production of the Tony Award-winning Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical Sweeney Todd. Two-time Center Stage alum E. Faye Butler, who was to have played the title character's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, has withdrawn to care for her ailing mother. She has been replaced by Nora Mae Lyng, whose Broadway credits include Amour, Into the Woods, Dirty Blonde, Cabaret and Les Miserables. Lyng was also one of the original producers and cast members of the off-Broadway revue Forbidden Broadway.

The musical's title role will be played by another former Les Miserables cast member, Joseph Mahowald, who also starred in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway. On the concert stage, Mahowald has performed with the City of London Philharmonic, the St. Louis Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Seoul Symphony.

Sweeney Todd will run Feb. 20-April 11 in the Head Theater at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Tickets are $35-$60. For more information, call 410-332-0033.

Also at Center Stage, the call has gone out for scripts for the annual Young Playwrights Festival. Maryland students in grades 4-12 can submit plays, which are eligible for performance workshops with professional actors and directors, culminating in staged readings at the theater on April 26.

For information on submission guidelines, call 410-685-3200, Ext. 362.

Dench to be honored

It may not be as lofty as being named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (as she was in 1988) or receiving an Academy Award (as she did in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love) or a Tony (as she did that same year for Amy's View), but on May 17 British actress Judi Dench will become the 17th recipient of the Will Award, bestowed by Washington's Shakespeare Theatre.


In addition to the above laurels, in a single year, Dench won two Olivier Awards - the British Tony - for A Little Night Music and Absolute Hell. Her television credits include the series A Fine Romance and the long-running As Time Goes By. She is currently starring as the Countess of Rossillion in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford-Upon-Avon production of All's Well That Ends Well.

Past recipients of the Will Award - short for the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre -include Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Patrick Stewart.

The award will be presented at a gala ceremony, the proceeds of which will help support the Shakespeare Theatre's annual Free For All production at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Washington. For more information, visit www.shakespeare or call 202-547-3230, Ext. 2330.

Musical at Mechanic

Cover Girls, a new musical based on the novel of the same name by Bishop T. D. Jakes, will play a one-week run at the Mechanic Theatre March 9-14. An account of the spiritual growth of four divergent women, the show will co-star Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Ann Nesby and Kim Fields, best known for her roles on the TV series The Facts of Life and Living Single.

Direction is by Baltimore native James Stovall. As a Broadway actor, Stovall's credits include Ragtime and The Life. More recently, he directed and co-wrote Nativity: A Life Story, a Langston Hughes-inspired show that has just completed its second engagement at New York's United Palace Theatre.


The score for Cover Girls is by Cedric and Victor Caldwell; Cheryl Davis has adapted the novel for the stage, with Jakes credited as co-writer and co-producer.

Co-produced by Clear Channel Entertainment, Cover Girls is being presented in Baltimore as part of an occasional series focusing on the contemporary African-American experience. Tickets go on sale Feb. 8. For more information, call 410-481-SEAT.

In other news from Clear Channel, which books the Broadway in Baltimore series, the opening of the Hippodrome Theatre box office, originally scheduled for Monday, has been slightly delayed. A new date will be announced shortly. For more information, call 410-837-7400.

Playwrights readings

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival's series of readings continues this month with two marathon sessions to be held at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Three plays will be read Saturday: A Question of Bones, by Ronda Cooperstein; A Different Kind of Love, by Kathleen Barber; and Air/Ice, by Joe Dennison.

Readings scheduled for Jan. 24 include Tiny Madman, by Lisa Voss, and Levy's Ghost, by Lew Schrager. A third script has yet to be announced.


Both sessions begin at 11 a.m. and are free and open to the public. For more information, call 410-276-2153.