By Jacqueline Monahan
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“Nunsense is Habit-Forming” at Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret Theatre

The title quote is from the first line of the first song in Nunsense and declares its irresistible nature. The vivacious musical premiered for media members on September 15 and introduced a quintet of ecclesiastical Jersey Girls – five nuns from the order of Little Sisters of Hoboken.
Swingin' Sisters
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Nunsense takes a humorous look at the everyday lives of nuns, those mysterious, celibate, pious, outspoken, mischievous, and sometimes irreverent wives of Jesus. After a 10-year run in New York, playwright Dan Goggin’s musical comedy has been presented in more than 8,000 productions around the world, currently holding its CONVENTion at the intimate Shimmer Cabaret Theatre at the Hilton.  

A video beams the exterior of a large convent; inside, nuns pray in a dining room as soup is ladled into their bowls.  After eating a few spoonfuls they collapse, face forward, dead from food poisoning.

Thus begins the comic fundraising romp through the lives of five female clerics as three of them infiltrate the audience in preparation for the arrival of Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Diane Ellis).
Diane Ellis as Sister Mary Regina
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
Those in aisle seats are in danger of getting slapped by a fast-moving veil as the sisters lead the crowd in a sing-song greeting, familiar to anyone who has ever attended Catholic elementary school:  “Good morning, Sister Mary Regina,” we all enunciate slowly, once she has appeared to tell us about her convent’s recent tragedy.

Convent cook Sister Julia Child of God has inadvertently poisoned 52 of the sisters with her vichyssoise but could only afford to have 48 of them buried. The reason? Sister Mary Regina purchased a large flat screen TV instead. The fundraiser is for burial costs for the remaining four who are literally stored in the freezer.
Convent Life is...Unusual
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
The morbidity is outweighed by hilarity as voiced by Sister Mary Regina’s little group of nuns. They are comprised of Sister Mary Hubert (Michelle Johnson) as the spirited Mistress of Novices (novices are kind of like nuns-in-training). Sister Mary Leo (Robin Berry Vincent) is a white-veiled novice with a penchant for dancing, sometimes in sparkly red five inch platform pumps.
Robin Berry Vincent as Sister Mary Leo
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

Sister Mary Robert Anne (Kathryn Arianoff) wants to be a star, twisting her veil into a variety of celebrity impressions, and Sister Mary Amnesia (Janien Valentine) has short term memory loss and stays happily, absent-mindedly in the “now.”  Even Mother Superior aka Reverend Mother aka Sister Mary Regina comes from a circus family and has tightrope walking in her background.
Kathryn Arianoff as Sister Mary Robert Anne
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
Each nun gets a chance to shine in the spotlight.  Within a 15-song set, there are numbers that include the entire cast and those that highlight one or two of the ladies at a time.  Janien Valentine, Kathryn Arianoff and Michelle Johnson are particular standouts.  The five-woman show (rotating from a company of seven) contains an abundance of catechism camp, often accompanied by a chorus line of high kicks.
A Catholic Chorus Line
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
The puns outnumber the penance as the lively sisters pray, plead, strut, and most of all sing in celestial harmony about daily life as a nun.  Sister Mary Annette is a puppet. A convent cookbook contains a recipe for Mary Magdalene Tarts.  “I bet they’re easy!” quips on of the sisters; “And cheap!” yells another.  That’s the kind of (holy) spirited dialogue you’ll encounter.
Sister Mary Annette, left, Entertains Sister Mary Amnesia (Janien Valentine)
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
Catholics and non-Catholics alike will recognize the black and white floor-length habits, the long, flowing veils, rosary beads and the absolute absence of nun ears. 

Fifteen songs range from operatic to bluesy to gospel to pop. The most memorable is Holier Than Thou, an upbeat, gospel-inspired number led by Sister Mary Hubert.  Other songs include I Just Want to Be a Star, We’ve Got to Clean Out the Freezer, and Turn up the Spotlight.
Michelle Johnson as Sister Mary Hubert Leads the Cast in Holier Than Thou
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
The outstanding cast is comprised of Diane Ellis, a former Excalibur singer who has performed with Don Rickles and has done voice-over work for Tom Jones and Paul Anka. 

Michelle Johnson has been featured on HBO, TBS, MTV, and Broadway; she has recorded, toured or appeared with Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Paul McCartney, and has done extensive regional theater.
Janien Valentine has appeared in Hair, Starlight Express, Notre Dame De Paris, and Men Are from Mars Women Are from Venus.
Robin Berry Vincent has appeared in lead roles in Chess,   Grease,   A Chorus Line, and South Pacific, and as the opening act for Lionel Ritchie and the Doobie Brothers.

Kathryn Arianoff has performed and recorded in Europe Africa, Japan, Canada, Mexico and all across the USA.  She appeared in the Red Hat Society musical Hats!
The Andrews "Sisters"
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn
Las Vegas favorite Kelly Clinton-Holmes hosts celebrity karaoke at the Bootlegger Bistro on Mondays and will join the Nunsense cast once the one on her foot comes off (she broke it rehearsing at home).

Natalie Carson captured the lead in the musical Annie at the age of ten.  Theater credits include West Side Story,   Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Grease.

Director-choreographer, Nancy Gregory has directed, written and choreographed television specials, films, music videos and commercials (including three Super Bowls).  She has directed shows at the Kodak Theater, Radio City Music Hall, and Madison Square Garden.

With Nunsense, Goggin and Gregory have hit upon an entertainment equation that’s likely to please without guilt, no confession needed:  Nun + pun = fun.

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