Oh, those zany nuns of the popular

Nunsense

shows, which mix musical numbers with little twists on convent and Catholic life for the amusement of those of us in the laity.

Zany

here is the operative word - the reason the

Nunsense

shows work is their lovable premise: Nuns can be nutty fun.

And zany is what's missing, in large doses, from both the show called Nuncrackers and the production that Hedgerow is giving it. The show - one of six in the Nunsense series by Dan Goggin, who writes the book, music, and lyrics - is the Christmastime version. It has the sisters of Mount Saint Helen's Convent taping a Christmas special for a cable-access channel in their town of Hoboken, N.J.

Nuncrackers has its moments, but the show substitutes corniness for the edge that made the nuns of the original Nunsense so lovably unpredictable - with so much lame corn, I began to think we were at a church dinner with a sole course: polenta. Moreover, Nuncrackers falls down on character building; the hearts beating under those habits are more or less the same. These are not the clear-cut individuals Goggin gave us in the original.

I must confess (as one should do when writing about these women of the Catholic cloth) that the production itself does little to help the show. It's directed and choreographed by Micki Sharpe, who also plays the mother superior. Like a lot of administrators nowadays, in the church and elsewhere, Sharpe is spreading herself thin.

Some of Sharpe's blocking seems stilted; the characters too often sing while seated or firmly positioned on stage, which for an audience is like watching talking heads for six minutes unless the songs themselves are extra special. (These aren't.)

The cast, which includes a rotating group of child actors playing four kids from the parish school, has plenty to sing, but at Wednesday's opening, the performers often sang haltingly, unsure of the musical cues and, sometimes, the words. My guess is that the show was underrehearsed; it seemed ready for nothing more solid than previews.

Still, as the run continues, I don't know how the cast will manage to compete with canned music far more exact than the quality of its singing and far more robust than the strength of its voices.

In addition to Sharpe, the sisterly cast includes Hedgerow veteran Susan Wefel, Heidi Starr, Sarah J. Gafgen, and Carl Smith as the sole priest. They run through Christmas-shopping tips, a nicely skewed version of The Nutcracker, a secret-Santa bit, a public-service song for joining the convent (in the style of the Village People), and the show's highlight - a "We Three Kings" spoof by Wefel, Starr, and Gafgen, the best-written song.

In the cast's hands, several of the bits are amusing, when they are something more than terrible puns, and if you want cute stage-nuns, you'll get 'em. But we're in the musical theater, and not restricted by the realities of church, so I myself will pass on cute and head straight for zany.

Nuncrackers

Presented by Hedgerow Theatre,

64 Rose Valley Rd., Media, through Jan. 9. Tickets: $25; $30 New Year's Eve. Information: 610-565-4211

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Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro

at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

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