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'Nuncrackers' sister act serves seasonal silliness

"Nuncrackers." The title alone lets us know that this show does not take itself seriously, and neither should we. The Christmas edition of the popular "Nunsense" series unrepentantly celebrates all that is nunny and punny about the holidays, shamelessly singing such songs as "Here We Come A-Waffling" (carrying waffles) and pitching Biblically inspired treats such as Candy Cain and Abel.

Somehow the sisters (and one father) who are roasting this seasonal chestnut onstage at O'Connell & Company manage to keep their faces relatively straight throughout the silliness, although Sister Mary Leo (Mary Moebius) on drums does a great job punctuating the real groaners with her well-timed rim shots. A small children's choir sings carols before the show and reappears adorably throughout the performance as students at Mount St. Helen's School.

The lightweight premise is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken are presenting their first Christmas show -- complete with product pitches -- on the local cable access television station. It makes for a mishmash of scenes in which it isn't always easy to tell what is supposed to be part of the show-within-the-show and what is simply for the audience's benefit.

We'll take it on faith that most of the action involving Mother Superior Mary Regina (Mary Kate O'Connell, born to carry that clicker) trying to keep her flock in line is off camera. No one can toss off a throw-away one-liner like O'Connell, who also ad libs when necessary to make sure we know who's boss.

Michael Starzynski plays Father Virgil, a lovable lump whose star turn happens when he steps into the role of Sister Mary Julia, Child of God, in a cooking segment. If you don't get the wordplay on the name the first time around, the light comes on when "she" says her first "Haaa-lOOOOO!" a the cutting board. But then, as the mixing of the rum-filled fruitcake commences, the sister transitions from Julia to something more like a Vega-Vita-Vita-Nun

Filling out the cast are Susana Breese and sweet Sister Mary Amnesia, Ann Mosner as the energetic Sister Robert Ann, who has the most sentimental scene in the show, and Mary Craig as Sister Mary Hubert -- watch out when she goes into Aretha Franklin mode on "C-O-N-V-E-N-T, convent has been good to me!" Cindy Bottoms-Noller is on keyboards.

The jokes are mostly gentle and family friendly, unless the fact hat one nun confuses "Nutcracker" with "Ballbreaker" offends you, and there is some cute costume comedy that gives it that true cable-access low-budget feel. If you are interested in more of a holiday experience than just watching a show, "Nuncrackers" could Santa-suit you well.

Theater review

"Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical"

3 stars (out of 4)

Christmas at the convent from the people who brought you "Nunsense," playing through Dec. 23 at O'Connell & Company," in residence at the Park School, 4625 Harlem Road. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30 general admission, $25 seniors and $15 for students/military and industry. Visit oconnellandcompany.com.

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