Nuncrackers is a Christmas concert that takes the form of a musical (book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin). It takes place in the convent basement/public access studio of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, New Jersey. The nuns paid for the studio upgrade with the Publisher’s Clearing House winnings of Sister Mary Paul (Kirstin Repco) who is also the strongest vocalist of the group. Given Kim Marston’s set design skews more cellar than a studio, it clearly wasn’t a very substantive check.

Director Erin Stetor-Seaberg has live musicians sitting on stage for the show’s duration. The professional performers improve the show’s quality, and they add a lively spirit as the keyboardist was often chuckling. However, the naturally elevated decibel level of the live music competes with the cast’s singing, often making it difficult to discern the words. The sound balance is particularly problematic for the four children in the cast. When the kids do an ensemble performance of “Santa’s Little Teapot,” it nearly becomes a mime act. Their young voices don’t carry as well and get overpowered by the keyboard. Stetor-Seaberg could easily solve this by putting microphones on the nine-person cast.

Following a Christmas variety show format, Nuncrackers is vignette-like. There’s even an interactive element in which Sister Mary Paul, who captures her character’s birdbrain spirit, comes out into the audience to play Secret Santa to a few lucky audience members. She bestows a Polish Christmas card upon one, and the grand finale is a scratch and sniff nativity lapel pin. Costuming-wise, all four nuns wear habits. Stetor-Seaberg makes good use of the habit’s inner pockets, having the nuns use them for prop reveals. In the case of Sister Mary Paul, she pulls the Secret Santa prizes out from her habit.

Stetor-Seaberg ensures each nun has a distinct personality, so you don’t confuse them. Sister Robert Anne (Rona Gehring) is a tough Brooklyn cookie turned nun, but she still has an edge. She’s the accented voice behind a nun puppet the appropriately stern Reverend Mother (Angela Thompson) disapproves of. The puppet makes a surprise appearance during the show, popping out through a garland-rimmed air vent. The nun puppet wears hootchy-level make-up, looking more lady of the night than an attendee of God. This points to Sister Robert Anne’s more checkered past, especially as the puppet launches into a song called “Twelve Days Prior to Christmas” that includes such gemstone lines as “Santa became fizzed” after he binge drinks.

Santa’s clearly not the only one hitting the sauce this season. Father Virgil (James Gatchler) is a weak vocalist, but he shines in his scene where he fills in for the absent convent cook for the cooking show segment and makes a fruitcake. He repeatedly douses the batter with liberal pours of rum, following the one for me, one for the recipe model. He keeps capping up the rum, finally saying, “Let’s just leave it open.”

The nuns take advantage of the public access format to launch a recruiting campaign. Second in command Sister Mary Hubert (Jeanne Kane) leads a rousing rendition of hilarious PR song, “In the Convent.” Lines like, “If you want to wake up and not think about your make-up” play up the appeal of convent living. The four nuns and Father Virgil don hats that represent different professions, illustrating that anyone from sailors to police officers is welcome and can make the transition to convent life.

The show opens and closes with the song “Christmas Time is Nunsense Time,” the title alone giving you an indicator of the show’s seriousness or lack thereof. The opening version ends with a weak, unsynchronized Rockettes-style kick. It’s funny with the habit-clad nuns. Appropriately, the “show” is supposedly all being filmed for public access, so the overall quality is consistent with what you’d see in that format. Have a little Nunsense time this holiday season, and if Secret Santa shines upon you, you may even come away with your own scratch and sniff nativity pin.

The Theatre Factory’s production of Nuncrackers continues through December 16that their theatre in Trafford. Learn more and purchase tickets online here.

Tiffany Raymond has her PhD in 20th century American drama from the University of Southern California where her research focused on labor and social protest theatre. She also has two master’s degrees, one from the University of Southern California and one from the University of Tennessee. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her family. In addition to being a theatre nerd, she’s also a tech geek, avid reader and occasional half-marathon runner.

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