Summer has arrived in Annapolis: The U.S. Naval Academy has had its Commissioning Week and the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has started its season.
This outdoor venue at 143 Compromise St., across from City Dock on the site of a colonial blacksmith's shop, is presenting the comedy Nunsense, written in 1984 by former Jesuit Dan Coggin.
Coggin tells the hilarious tale of nuns who put on a show to raise funds to bury four of their colleagues temporarily stored in the freezer. Convent chef Sister Julia Child of God accidentally served a lethal soup that poisoned 52 nuns, but only 48 were buried before funds ran out.
In Summer Garden's production, the nuns have been moved from their original convent in Hoboken, N.J., to Annapolis, where they are now known as "the Little Sisters of the Severn" with "Big Sisters of the Chesapeake Bay" aspirations. Here they've picked up four musicians - conductor Trent Goldsmith on piano, Ken Kimble on synthesizer, Jeremy Ritenour on reeds and Greg Bosworth on drums - for added blessings. The lovable misfit nuns banter with the audience, asking questions like "How do you make holy water?" (Answer: "You boil the hell out of it.")
Summer Garden's production is blessed to have Carol Cohen reprising the Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina role she played five years ago at Chesapeake Music Hall. As head of the convent, Cohen summons enormous dignity while evoking laughter. She recounts stories of her pre-convent tightrope-walking days with her Flying Wallenda-like family, relating that after an accident she vowed to join a convent. Cohen's "Turn Up the Spotlight" shines with star power as she reveals the desperation to become a star that lurks beneath her proper exterior.
As Sister Mary Regina's long-suffering assistant, Sister Mary Hubert, Shannon Benil proves a feisty, witty and wise partner, who can ably spring into dance and belt out a song. Benil's duet with Cohen, "Just a Coupl'a Sisters," is a gem, as is her intense gospel solo of "Holier Than Thou."
Singer/actress Sheri Kuznicki once again surprises with her acting range and versatility in her portrayal of streetwise nun Sister Robert Anne. Kuznicki's Sister Robert Anne is a sprite who hilariously manipulates her wimple to transform herself into Pocahontas, Pippi Longstocking and Princess Leia. Kuznicki delivers a memorable "Playing Second Fiddle" and later pulls out all the stops in a joyous "I Just Want to Be a Star" to light up the stage.
As Sister Mary Amnesia, Michelle Gisondi brings humor and sympathy to her character and she sings well in a duet with a puppet, "So You Want to Be a Nun," that brings another comic highlight.
Choreographer Alicia B. Sweeney has taken over the role of Sister Mary Leo in the absence of Erin Tarpley, sidelined by an injury. Sweeney brings some excellent dancing, nice singing and high good humor to the role.
Director Beverly Hill van Joolen moves the action along at a lively pace and involves the audience in a fun evening.
Nunsense continues on weekends through June 25. Reservations: 410-268-9212 or visit the Web site at www.SummerGarden.com.