You don’t have to be Catholic to love “Nunsense” and its six hilarious sequels. It’s “The Flying Nun” on steroids, dancing on the head of a pin. And if you’ve never seen any of these iconic musical comedies, you’ve got a terrific treat in store, I must confess. It’s almost sinful to be so outrageously funny!
The perpetrator of these 30 years of Nunsense productions is Dan Goggin, who wrote all the books, music and lyrics and based his characters on the nuns he admired as a boy being taught by the Marymount Dominican Sisters in Michigan.
Goggin’s nuns began as missionaries serving a leper colony on an island off the coast of France. As circumstances evolved, however, they eventually wound up in America to become The Little Sisters of Hoboken, despite the fact that each of them had once wanted to be on the stage.
Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior, (Michelle Holmes) comes from a family of circus performers whom she had hoped to join as a tight-rope walker. Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices, (Renee Cohen) initiates spontaneous tap dances. Sister Robert Anne (Lisa Dyson) is a street-smart broad from Canarsie who longs for a solo part instead of understudying the others. (She sings “I Just Want to be a Star.”) Sister Mary Leo (Shayna Gabrielle) cavorts around the stage in ballet shoes envisioning herself as a ballerina. And Sister Mary Amnesia (Kelley Dorney), who lost her memory when a Crucifix fell on her head, suddenly remembers that she wanted to go to Nashville and be a country singer.
So, as “Nunsense”, the first play in the series, opens, the nuns are facing a dreadful calamity: 52 of their sisters have died as a result of consuming poisonous vichyssoise prepared accidentally by their cook. The five principal nuns have managed to bury 48 of the 52 and have stored the remaining four in a deep freezer until they can accumulate enough money to finish the burials.
The money, they decide, will come from a talent show that they will perform for the public, and for the next two hours they provide dancing and singing that rivals anything that Stephen Sondheim ever produced. The lyrics are extraordinarily clever, the music is varied and tuneful, and the dancing is pretty hot stuff for a quintet of nuns.
They even tell jokes. Question: “What did Jesus say at the last supper?” Answer: “Everybody who wants to be in the picture, get on this side of the table!” And Sister Mary Amnesia congratulates everyone for not stooping to penguin jokes.
In the end, each acknowledges that she is happy being a nun in a rip-roaring song: “I’m holier than thou, I’ve got the spirit now…” And that spirit is expertly directed by Kristin Tower Rowles, musical director William A. Reilly, and choreographer Lisaun Whittingham.
The first “Nunsense,” inspired by a line of funny greeting cards produced by Dan Goggin, was so successful that he decided to expand the concept into a cabaret show. “The Nunsense Story” opened at Manhattan’s Duplex for a four-day run and subsequently ran for 38 weeks.
A full-length theater production followed in 1985 and ran off-Broadway for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest- running off-Broadway show in history (after “The Fantasticks”).
Since then, Goggin has created “Nunsense 2: The Second Coming,” “Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree,” “Nuncracker’s: The Nunsense Christmas Musical,” “Meshuggah-Nuns,” “Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue,” and, finally, “Nunset Boulevard.”
As I said earlier, you’re in for a treat!
“Nunsense” can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Jan. 17 at Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo Street in North Hollywood. For tickets call 818-605-5685 or visit www.crowncitytheatre.com.