There’s always one in every crowd – the smart aleck, the know-it-all, the rebel, the tough cookie, the one who challenges authorities. That pretty much describes Peggy Lou Caccetti, graduate of St. Minervanooks School for Girls and Others, who returns for her 30th reunion. But this celebration takes an unusual twist – and a mystery is revealed that threatens the existence of her childhood school. But never fear: The nuns are here – with all the answers, of course – in “Mother Superior’s Habits” at Eastpointe’s Broadway Onstage Live Theatre!
If there’s one truism in Metro Detroit’s theater community it’s this: Put a nun on stage, and tickets miraculously fly out of the box office. And joining the litany of nun-themed shows to hit area stages in recent years is this original musical comedy by Dennis Wickline, with music by David Clayton. Like its “sister” shows by Maripat Donovan (“Late Night Catechism”) and Dan Goggin (“Nunsense”), “Habits” is a loving tribute to and gentle spoof of the mysteriously garbed women who educated and influenced generations of boys and girls in the days prior to Vatican II. Although the students were never sure of the nuns’ humanity – they moved like ghosts and had ears as sharp as a bat – these dedicated servants of God were indeed flesh and blood, with their own unique gifts and quirks just like the rest of us. And that’s part of the fun in this thoroughly enjoyable night at the theater.
Peggy Lou, twice-divorced and a fallen-away Catholic, arrives at the reunion and meets up with a handful of her childhood friends. Ilisa Toto, once the homeliest girl in the school, is the biggest surprise, thanks to a complete makeover courtesy of family members in the medical profession. On their way to the dinner, all the women except Peggy Lou and Ilisa decide to try on the nuns’ habits placed on display in the hallway. The transformation freaks out the two girls, and an accidental run-in with a classroom door thrusts Peggy Lou three decades into the past where she finds herself and Ilisa back in school – with their friends as the nuns they once loved and feared.
Still the rebel, Peggy Lou has arrived on the day the Vatican has decommissioned the school’s patron saint for lack of proof she ever existed. What will this do to the school’s future? And how will Peggy Lou get back to 1994?
If time travel stories make your head hurt, playwright and director Wickline has been careful to keep paradoxes to a minimum. (The school’s name in 1994 should be a clue that the mystery is indeed solved, and no timeline has been destroyed in the process.) But more importantly, he has infused the show with plenty of humor – and a bingo game played by the entire audience with a prize awarded to the winner!
And while I won’t totally spoil the show’s ending, how Peggy Lou gets home is one of the biggest laughs of the night.
What sells the show, however, are the personalities and talents of his heavenly six-person cast. (The fact that a few are not the appropriate age to be at their 30th high school reunion can be easily forgiven.)
Sharron Nelson is thoroughly believe as Peggy Lou – with facial expressions and mannerisms that perfectly fit the stereotypical “bad girl.” Marie Lorincz is a godsend from central casting as the forgetful Sister Mary Christina. (She pretty much looks like every nun I ever had in grade school.) And Diana Turner as the angelic-faced Sister Mary Maria has the best singing voice of the troupe.
A tip of the bonnet also goes to music director Kelly Smith, who dons the habit while accompanying the show. (She has the “nun walk” down pat; I never heard her enter and sit at the piano before the start of the show. But there she was!)
“Why does my flashback have to be a musical?” Peggy Lou asks in the first act. Because without the music and songs, the show would be far less fun!
‘Mother Superior’s Habits’
Broadway Onstage, 21517 Kelly Road, Eastpointe. Friday-Saturday through May 12, plus Sunday, April 22. 110 minutes. $16. 586-771-6333. http://www.broadwayonstage.com