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Plenty of 'Nunsense' on the OST stage

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- Those popular singing nuns are back on the Okoboji stage as the Summer Theatre opens its season with "Nunsense II."

The first-night performance attracted an almost full house; an extra show has been added to the schedule at 4:30 p.m. Friday because of demand for tickets.

I'll start out by stating that I've never cared for the three or four "Nunsense" musicals, all by Dan Goggin, which I've seen ("Meshuggah Nuns," Okoboji 2004 was the best), and this current version quickly became tiresome also. However, my theater companion and I decided we were in the minority. The nuns attracted a happy crowd of "Nunsense" fans, and the man behind us was enjoying himself so much that his raucous laugh, extra-loud clapping and joyful whistles just about split our ear drums.

On the bright side, the OST company has assembled a talented cast of singers and dancers for this production, headed by Okoboji favorite Lamby Hedge, who plays the Mother Superior and also takes on a triple role of director-choreographer. Nimble in tennis shoes under her habit, she sets the tone as she leads "the sisters" -- Kira Josephson, Emily Shackelford, Izzie Baldwin and Emily Peterson -- on fast-paced organized and disorganized mayhem.

The Little Sisters of Hoboken, N.J., are once again putting on a variety show at Mount St. Helen's School. This time it's a "thank-you" performance for all who helped them raise money the last time around.

The nun who wants to be a ballerina performs her ballet on Rollerblades, a real Holy Roller. Another sister sings country-western. A puppet adds some extra fun to a sequence. A humorous, irreverent scene ensues after the mischievous sisters "hit the sauce."

The light plot-line of "Nunsense II" includes a new twist on Sister Amnesia's problems. She's so-named because she lost her memory in "Nunsense I" after a blow to her head by a crucifix, regaining memory in time to realize she was a winner in the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Now in the sequel, our Little Sisters of Hoboken are challenged by a greedy order of Franciscan nuns, trying to claim Sister Amnesia as one of their own to enrich their coffers. "They're the kind of nuns that give nuns a bad name."

The nuns also perform in the aisles and, as the play opens, pass out Bingo cards to the audience. Mother Superior's arrival by Oriental rickshaw makes a clever touch.

There are plenty of songs, and while none are really memorable, they're entertaining and well-performed. There are many examples of pleasing choreography, including a hat and cane ensemble number by the five nuns. Jim Koudelka, Melanie Ellis and Greg Forney are tunefully engaged with their keyboards and percussion accompaniment.

For OST's 51st season, there's a large new outdoor patio, attractively designed to greet theater patrons as they arrive. Add to that an opportunity to walk up the red carpet (freshly laid) into the theater with sturdy center railing, which creates a non-hazardous entrance. Also a new rehearsal hall facility is in place.

Artistic Director Beth Leonard, currently full professor at Stephens College, made an opening announcement that an underground storm shelter has just been built. She said that the staff had already made use of it a few days ago, then commented: "Now for the first time in 51 years, we are safe!"

"Nunsense II" continues through Sunday to be followed by eight more plays during the summer.