Dan Goggin apparently enjoyed his Catholic school upbringing so much that he decided to honor those wacky nuns of whom he was so fond. He penned a cabaret show called “The Nunsense Story,” which opened for a four-day run and was so popular it was extended to 38 weeks.
Encouraged, he expanded his original concept into a full-length comedy called “Nunsense,” which opened off-Broadway and ran for an unbelievable 10 years, the second longest running off-Broadway show (second only to “The Fantasticks”). By the time it ended its run, it had been translated into 26 different languages and had seen more than 8,000 productions worldwide.
It spawned a whole industry for Goggin, with (so far) five sequels to the original production. The Winters Community Theatre presented the third of these, “Nuncrackers, the Nunsense Christmas Musical,” in 2002 and now it is bringing the original to the stage.
“Nunsense” is a great show for community theater. There are only five in the cast (six, if you count Sister Mary Melody — Debi Bowen, who plays the piano accompaniment), there are no costume changes, and the set can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.
What it does require is five talented actresses who can sing, dance and deliver corny old jokes and get the audience to laugh (or audibly groan) every time. Winters has found these actresses.
The story involves the Little Sisters of Hoboken — who once worked in a leper colony in the south of France — who are now living in New Jersey, after having been ousted by Protestant missionaries
While several of the sisters were out playing bingo with a bunch of Maryknolls, their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God (that’s one of the groaners) accidentally poisons 52 of the nuns with her tainted vichyssoise. The remaining sisters managed to bury all but four of the departed when they ran out of money and discovered that the Mother Superior took some of the money raised to buy a flat-screen TV. So the four remaining are being kept in the freezer (“blue nuns,” you might say) and the health department is beating at their door.
They have decided to put on a show to raise the rest of the money so they can finally bury their fellow sisters … and thus is the set-up for the rest of the show.
This may be one of the strongest shows I have seen at Winters in a long time, due in large part to the addition of Mary Young, a longtime favorite of Davis Musical Theatre Company audiences, making her Winters debut in this production as Mother Superior Mary Regina, a former circus performer who can’t resist the spotlight. She is a delight to watch.
If you have been raised in Catholic schools, you may find several of your old teachers in the cast, as I did. Sister Mary Hubert is a dead ringer for my old home economics teacher, and I enjoyed Christine Beamer’s performance very much. It doesn’t hurt that she also was a knockout in DMTC’s recent “Follies.” Hubert is the director of novices and aspires to be Superior. Her “Holier than Thou” is the show-stopper of the evening.
When Mother Superior is detained after an Act 1 incident (Young as you’ve never seen her before), Sister Robert Ann (Eleanor Yeatman), the show’s understudy, seizes the moment to reminisce about her childhood at St. Claire’s Catholic School, a beautiful, poignant song about the changes in the modern church. It is a stand-out moment for Yeatman.
Joanie Bryant is the novice, Sister Mary Leo. She is very sweet and wants to be the first ballerina nun. I’m not sure what the Little Sisters are doing with a Daughter of Charity cornette, but Mary Leo dons the headpiece and dances for all the world like The Flying Nun.
Rounding out the gang of five is Sister Amnesia (Linda Glick), who can’t remember who she is but who ultimately comes up with the solution for the burial of the blue nuns just in the nick of time.
The material is dated, some is mildly offensive (I didn’t like the song about the leper colony) and the jokes are corny, but the show is a delight, sure to please anyone, no matter what their religion.