Nov. 11 2015 12:32 AM

‘Nuncrackers’ brings early Christmas fun

Starlight Dinner Theatre knows its target audience, and director Jane Zussman knows how to please them. Its production of “Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical” is a perfect example of giving the people what they want: song and dance, laughs, a little interaction and some lightly bawdy humor.

“Nuncrackers” is one of the nine shows in the “Nunsense” series of musicals. Those who have seen other shows in the series will recognize familiar characters, including Sister Mary Paul, aka Sister Amnesia (LeAnn Dethlefsen), who has a terrible memory but amazing luck with games of chance, and Sister Robert Anne, played by a highly animated Laura Croff, a straight-tawkin’ Brooklynite.

In this installment, the sisters of Mount Saint Helen’s Convent are taping a Christmas fundraiser for local cable television. The show is coming together nicely until a Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding-type incident sidelines Sister Mary Leo (Missy Evelten), who has mastered the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for their version of “The Nutcracker.” All heck breaks loose, and shenanigans ensue as the sisters try to one-up each other’s performances.

While an audience-participation Secret Santa gift-giving bit slows the action down a bit, the cast more than make up for it with a clever riff on home shopping networks. They present cute and clever Catholic-based gifts that allow for one of two significant references to balls (teehee-hee). The jokes are often predictable, but the cast’s commitment to the punch lines sell them nuntheless.

The bit that makes the entire show worthwhile is Father Virgil (Rick Dethlefsen) standing in for Sister Julia’s cooking segment. In full habit drag, Father Virgil mixes a noxious batter with rum as its main ingredient. The scene is a hoot as the ever-vigilant Virgil ensures quality control by testing the rum frequently.

The musical performances fall all over the emotional spectrum, from funny to tearjerkingly poignant. “Twelve Days Prior to Christmas” falls on the hilarious end as Sister Robert Anne explains — indelicately — why the angel is on the top of the tree. In a tie for most heart wrenching song, Father Virgil shares his story about “The Christmas Box,” and Sister Robert Anne pines for her father in “All I Want for Christmas.”

While the characters of “Nuncrackers” are Catholic, the script is accessible and appropriate for people of all — or no — denominations. In fact, the only offensive thing about the show is the timing. It is hard to get into the Christmas spirit so soon after Halloween. Perhaps a serving of Father Virgil’s fruitcake for dessert would help usher in the glad tidings and goodwill.

“Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical” Starlight Dinner Theatre

6:30 p.m. dinner, 7:30 p.m. show Friday, Nov. 13-Saturday, Nov. 14; 1 p.m. dessert bar, 2 p.m. show Sunday, Nov. 15. Dinner and show: $39/$36 seniors and students/$23 children Show only: $18/$17 seniors and students/$13 children Sunday matinee (includes dessert bar): $25/$18 children Waverly East Intermediate School 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517)-243-6040,