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It is written as a one-woman show.
As much as starring in “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class” appealed to Sue Riney, the solo act aspect of it was a little unsettling.
What if, she thought, audiences got tired of listening to her?
So Riney took the liberty to make some changes to the script. She could do that after all, since she also was the show’s director and producer.
“I had a great fear of being up there by myself,” Riney said. “I wanted to surround myself with good friends as a security blanket.
“It’s more entertaining to have other people involved.”
The revised edition of “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class” is a product that Riney is much happier about.
The show officially opens Friday night at the Whidbey Playhouse and continues through the end of June. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday performances begin at 2:30 p.m.
Riney won’t be all alone on stage.
She is surrounded by musicians and a magician; most are sidekicks from past performances.
She also is flanked by three large screens that display projected images. Her husband and technical director, Jim Riney, is responsible for keeping up with his wife’s monologue and projecting those images in timely fashion.
It’s a comfortable setting among friends for Sue Riney. Five members of the six-person cast attend the same Oak Harbor church together.
Yet, Riney still surprises them frequently.
“It’s fun to watch her in action,” said Pat Felger, who plays the bass as Sister Mary Melody.
“She cracks us up all the time. We react and we laugh. It helps all of us do better.”
“Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class” is a musical comedy that is part of the “Nunsense” series created by Dan Goggin.
The original show, “Nunsense,” was an off-Broadway smash in the mid 1980s, spawning sequels, spin-offs and television adaptations.
The work is a favorite of Riney, who’s performed in four previous “Nunsense” productions in her 32 years of performing at the Whidbey Playhouse.
It’s her first show since the Disney musical revue “Wish Upon a Star” in the spring of 2012. Her last “Nunsense” performance was in 2009 with some of the same cast she’ll be on stage with this month.
Riney can’t remember ever tackling all three roles as producer, director and leading actor in all of her years at the playhouse. She was the nonprofit theater group’s executive director for 25 years and figures she’s been involved in about 60 shows as performer, director or producer since 1981.
“I’ve never done all three that I can recall,” Riney said.
Riney stepped down from her executive director post in 2009 to give more time to her job as project manager at Wells Fargo Bank and her increasing involvement with Soroptimist International. She is now on Soroptimist’s federation fundraising council.
Riney longed for the silliness again of nuns telling jokes and lacing up her red high tops as Sister Robert Anne.
“I really love playing Robert Anne,” Riney said. “You get to be goofy, you get to create and I love to sing. She sings in a way that I like to sing.”
“She is just so talented,” Felger said.
“She’s musically talented, just amazing to work with. She’s a real professional.”
The show also features Gaye Litka as Sister Mary Amnesia and J.R. Russell as Father Diego Sarducci.
The original script just called for a lead performer and a pianist, but Riney issued acting parts to longtime friend, fellow actor and piano player Litka, including a skit as a ventriloquist with a puppet dressed as a nun.
Russell teams up with Litka during his opening magic act.
Rounding out the cast are the musicians: “Father Vic” Veltkamp on the drums, “Father Jeff” Stiern on the saxophone and clarinet and Felger on the bass.
Riney said that “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class” is a “fairly new show” and this will mark it’s Pacific Northwest premiere.
She likes the version they’ve created by adding more musicians, a magician, a ventriloquist and lots of changing visuals projected on the screens.
She said her husband uses mirrors to bounce images from projectors on to the screens.
“We wanted to do something different,” Riney said.
Riney said she started memorizing her songs a year ago while singing to herself in her car on drives around town.
The fun part was adding her own jokes to the script, saying lines that would ordinarily make a nun blush. The script calls for “current content” to be inserted. Riney had no shortage of that.
“I really don’t take myself too seriously,” she said. “I don’t get too embarrassed. I am willing to look foolish.
“I have a lot of friends who are fun. I like to have fun.”