By JANE WILSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 15, 2007
For Nicole Nappo, the role of the Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina in the Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s production of the musical comedy “Nunsense” is heaven-sent: It allows her to express her lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church through her love of musical theater.
A longtime parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Nappo began her musical ministry early. After her family moved to Atlanta when Nicole was in the seventh grade, Nappo began singing in church youth choirs, and she continued her work in choirs and as a cantor throughout high school and college. She also directed small music ministry groups at IHM and enjoyed participating in the Celebration Choir during her years as a member of the Holy Cross Parish. In addition, she performed in the Street People Players drama ministry, creating such roles as Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly!” and Mrs. Hannigan in “Annie.”
Nappo also freelances as a director, choreographer and costumer for local elementary, middle and high schools; currently she is working on a production of “Honk!” at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
Performance is in Nappo’s blood—her mother, Joanne Phillips, was a featured soprano in the IHM choir for many years, and Nicole and her three younger sisters traditionally sang a special song at the IHM Christmas Eve Midnight Mass program as they were growing up. Her children have carried on the tradition. Tony, 21, is a theater major at the College of Charleston, and Joey, 19, is a professional actor whose most recent roles include parts in the movies “We Are Marshall” and “Daddy’s Little Girls.” Daughters Jenna, 16, and Gia, 14, attend Lakeside High and are involved in theater as well.
“Nunsense” is the perfect vehicle for Nappo. A veteran of parochial school herself, Nappo says she “grew up listening to many stories of nuns and priests from my parents who taught many years in parochial education.” She draws on these stories and her experiences for the show, and she shares them with the other cast members: “When I share my memories of nuns with the other four ladies in our cast, the year that stands out the most is 1969 because of Vatican II. In third grade, my teacher was Sister Elizabeth Seton, who wore the flowing black and white, with the high white headpiece, but when we came back in fourth grade, our new teacher was named Sister Susan, and she wore a short navy dress and a short navy veil with a white band, like a hair band. We could see her hair and her ears! One of the jokes in “Nunsense” is ‘everybody knows nuns don’t have ears!’”
“Nunsense” is the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, who operate Mount St. Helen’s School in New Jersey. Due to an unfortunate episode with some botulism-tainted vichyssoise, 52 of the sisters die and it’s up to the surviving members of the order to raise enough money to bury them. They start a greeting card company, which pays for the majority of the funerals, but the sisters still need to take care of the last four victims, and get them out of their freezer. They decide to put on a variety show, which is portrayed in the events of “Nunsense.”
The surviving five “Little Hobos” put on a show to remember, laced with much humor but always mindful of the faith that these women share. Nappo promises that “the clickers, lyrics in Latin, the ‘nun’ gestures, and the memories will have Catholic audiences crying and laughing at the same time.” She points to a ballad sung by Sister Mary Amnesia (who has suffered a loss of memory due to a crucifix falling on her head) as one of her favorite moments in the show. The nun sings “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” about how she originally wanted to be a country singer like Loretta Lynn “but something much more powerful was calling from within.”
Nappo says that this recalls a feeling from childhood: “Most little girls who attended Catholic school in the 60s thought about being a nun when they grew up, at one time or another, but as we got older we realized there was more to it than just being a sister; you were listening for that call.”
For many years, Nicole Nappo’s calling has been to serve God using her musical talents. For a sample of these talents, get thee to “Nunsense,” produced by the Atlanta Lyric Theatre at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus.
“Nunsense” is playing at The Byers Studio Theatre at The Lyric, located at 1705 Commerce Drive, Atlanta, now through March 25. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.