• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

‘Nunsense’ opens at Woodford Theatre on Feb. 3

DURING A BREAK at a recent rehearsal of “Nunsense,” Kelli Jo Crawford (Sister Mary Leo), Melissa Rae Wilkeson (Sister Robert Anne), Patricia O’Neill (Reverend Mother Regina), Jessica Pearl French (Sister Mary Hubert) and Maddy Williamson (Sister Mary Amnesia), pictured left to right, posed for a photograph. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Audiences will see a musical comedy that’s familiar to many when “Nunsense” opens on the Woodford Theatre stage Friday, Feb. 3. The 1985 musical about five surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken staging a variety show to raise money for the burials of four nuns accidentally killed by tainted vichyssoise was the second-longest running off-Broadway show, and has been produced on more than 5,000 occasions worldwide. Yet, the actors featured in Woodford Theatre’s upcoming production and its director are confident they’ll bring something different to audiences. “I’ve been wanting to direct here (at Woodford Theatre), and I can’t think of a better show to do,” says director Marty Wayman, who has been in numerous productions of “Nunsense” as an actor since the mid-1980s. She has portrayed Sister Mary Hubert most often, and also played Reverend Mother Regina in a production by the Maysville Players. “We’ve had nothing, but fun,” says Wayman of those earlier experiences. “…Every single one is different.” It was while playing Sister Hubert in a production by Studio Players of Lexington more than a decade ago that Wayman shared the stage with Melissa Rae Wilkeson (as Sister Robert Anne) and Patricia O’Neill (as Reverend Mother). Both return to those roles in Woodford Theatre’s production, but Wayman says their characters are different now because of life experiences – as people and actors. Alluding to the physical demands of Dan Goggin’s musical, Wilkeson says, “There’s a little bit of talk, and a whole lot of singing and dancing.” “It never stops,” adds O’Neill, 67. The demanding work pays off for them whenever their audience laughs. “I will do whatever it takes to get these people to laugh,” says O’Neill. “If I have to crawl on the floor – and I do,” before a Wilkeson adds with a laugh, “And she does it well.” Wilkeson and O’Neill are joined by a trio of younger, less experienced actors, which Wayman says, “brings a lot of freshness” to Woodford Theatre’s “Nunsense.” Maddy Williamson, who returns to the Woodford stage (she played Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” last season), didn’t know a whole lot about “Nunsense” when she auditioned for the production, but says, “I instantly fell in love with it because I finally had the chance to dive into the characters and into the music.” Getting to portray Sister Mary Amnesia – who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head – has been “a real treat” for this senior University of Kentucky theatre major. Being able to perform alongside seasoned actors Wilkeson and O’Neill has been a learning opportunity for the 21-year-old. “It’s incredible. Every show that I do is a learning experience,” says Williamson. “And this show is definitely a learning experience because I am surrounded (by) such talented vets of the stage.” Portraying Sister Mary Leo in “Nunsense” has also given Kelli Jo Crawford an opportunity to work alongside Wilkeson and O’Neill. They have taught her about life – onstage and off. “She (Sister Leo) learns so much from them and they help her grow up a little bit … I love when art reflects life,” says Crawford, 22. While Jessica Pearl French (Sister Mary Hubert) only recently graduated from Berea College with a degree in music and vocal performance, she already has a long history with “Nunsense” – her mother was the accompanist during the musical’s run at Studio Players when she was a young child. “I grew up on the piano bench,” says French, “so whatever show (my mom) did, I was there. And they just happened to do this one numerous times.” Being able to build a “sisterhood,” has been “really special” for Williamson and the other actors in this cast. “It’s only the five of us, and I couldn’t imagine a better group to be this close with, to do this show,” says French. Having the freedom to “goof around a lot in rehearsal” has helped this cast find unscripted moments to nurture genuine relationships. So “every night the show’s going to be different,” says Williamson, who has been doing theatre since middle school. Three weekends of “Nunsense” performances continue through Sunday, Feb. 19. Friday and Saturdayperformances begin at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2. Tickets are $20 for adults and $13 for students. Visit woodfordtheatre.com or call the box office at 873-0648 to purchase reserved tickets for the upcoming performances.

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