Mill River Players holiday show is "Nuncrackers", the Nunsense Christmas Musical which is a most pleasant alternative to "A Christmas Carol". Those nutty nuns from Mount Saint Helen's Convent in Hoboken, NJ, are at it again. They are filming a Christmas special for Cable Access TV, in their very own studio built in the basement of the Convent with the prize money won in one of their previous shows. It's supposed to be a live version of the ballet, The Nutcracker, but in usual Nunsense style, the lead dancer, Sister Leo gets injured so the nuns have to come up with another entertainment for their audience. Director Chuck PetitBon chooses the best cast for this show which consists of five wacky nuns, one daffy priest and 6 talented children. All their hard work is rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the show. Bravo.
Chuck and music director Dan Zabinski put this holiday spectacular together wonderfully by bringing out the comic touches in the cast's acting and singing. The group numbers are topnotch including the ballet sequence which closes Act 1 and the Village People number, "In the Convent" which brings the house down. A perfect harmonic blend is heard throughout the show with the Andrews sisters type number "The Three Kings" a shining example. Leading the cast is Lee Rush as Sister Regina, the Reverend Mother. Her sparkling wit and lilting Irish brogue is excellent as is her solo, "Old Time Carnival Christmas" about spending the holiday with Sophie Tucker. Lee is hilarious as she instructs the audience to participate with her in this vaudeville type number. She also is funny in the Sugar Plum dance, wearing a tutu over her habit as well as in the Catholic Shopping network scene where she tries to sell Nunscents perfume and mouthwash to the audience. Lee leads the cast in the opening and closing number "Christmas Time is Nunsense Time" so everyone knows what to expect from these crazy nuns. Her comic foil in this show is Sister Leo's brother, Father Virgil played splendidly by Bill Brissette. His acting is wonderful as is his comic timing. He is hysterical dressed up as Sister Julia in drag during a cooking segment on how to make a fruitcake as he drinks most of the rum and uses fake fruit to make the cake. Bill stays in drag for the ballet number when he competes with Regina as the Sugar Plum Fairy. He gets a chance to show off his tender side when he sings "Christmas Box" to cheer up the little girl who accidentally hurt Sister Leo.
Diane Petit is superb as Sister Hubert, the second in command. Her fabulous soprano voice brings down the house in "It's Better to Give" her gospel number that closes the show. She is a commanding presence as Hubert tries to get the show back on track several times. Diane's strong voice and acting ability stand out in this role. Two of the biggest scene stealers in this show are Staci Morin as Sister Robert Anne and Heather Carey as Sister Amnesia. Staci who is a gorgeous blond and speaks with perfect diction in real life, uses a Brooklyn accent as the tough nun which is excellent and humorous. She gets to show off her fantastic soprano voice in her touching ballad "Midnight Clear" where she reminisces about her father returning home during a Christmas pageant at church while the cast sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" in counterpoint as well as in the comic song "One Night Stand" where she wants to perform at Carneige Hall some day. Staci's suggestive lyrics in the latter number are very funny. Heather's portrayal as the space shot country singing nun is wonderful. As Sister Amnesia, she hands out the secret Santa gifts to people in the audience, sings and yodels in "Santa Ain't Comin' to Our House and keeps screwing up the lyrics to various Christmas songs including "As We go a Waffling" (the six kids carry waffle boxes on sticks), "The Holly and the Ivory" (the kids carry Ivory Snow soap boxes on sticks) and in "The First Noel", she and the children sing leopards instead of Shepherds. (She and the kids are dressed in leopard vests.) Leah Kenney, a sixteen year old high school student plays the novice, Sister Lucas who runs the TV camera. She also gets to sing in some group numbers and shows off her lovely soprano voice in a beautiful ballad called "When Santa Claus Reads your Letter'' which she sings to the six children. Last but definitely not least are the fantastic children in this show. They prove that they can act, sing and dance extremely well at a young age. These six talented kids are Samantha Barbosa, Caleb Howland, Phoebe Perelman, Joe Fine, Cory Mercier and Hannah Schott. Their two big numbers are the ballad, "Bring a Torch Janette Isabella" and the comic "A Peppermint Candy Christmas" where they sing solo lines beautifully.
An added word of praise to Chuck who not only directs this show but prepares the scrumptious dinner before the show, too. This night I chose the pork tenderloin with brown gravy, cornbread and cranberry stuffing, cranberry sauce, sting beans and carrots, plain and sweet oven roasted potatoes with Italian seasoning plus all you can eat chicken vegetable soup and freshly baked rolls. The after dinner dessert is an apple turnover with caramel sauce and coffee or tea. So for a spectacular Christmas extravaganza, be sure to catch this wonderful rendition of "Nuncrackers" at this splendid dinner theater. You will be glad you did.