There may be more-than-one theatrical franchise of musical plays that started out as a line of greeting cards showing nuns saying vaguely racy things, but if there is, it’s not anywhere as famous or as popular as the “Nunsense” shows by Dan Goggins.
The first one appeared off Broadway in 1985. The show, in which the Little Sisters of Hoboken put on a fundraiser to bury the four dead sisters who are taking up space in the freezer – they died of botulism – was a mostly plotless assemblage of nun characters with funny names performing goofy nun-themed comedy sketches, some involving puppets, bingo games, or ballet dancing, all of it wrapped up in some truly catchy songs like “Nunsense is Habit forming,” “Holier Than Thou,” and “We’ve Got to Clean Out the Freezer.” It all pokes gentle fun at Catholicism while also being one-hundred-percent pro-faith, pro-God, and pro-nun, especially nuns who make jokes about death, leprosy and the Apostle Peter.
Since its debut, “Nunsense” has been performed all over the world, and miraculously, has given birth to several sequels and spinoffs, two of which are currently being performed by different theater companies in Sonoma County.
“Nunsense: the Mega Musical,” is essentially a rewrite of the original show, with some new musical numbers and a few additional onstage characters. Running through May 3rd at the Sonoma Community Center, in Sonoma, and produced by J Love Productions, the shiow’s highlights include Abbey Chamber’s soaring rendition of “I Just Wanna Be a Star,” Sister Robert Anne’s bittersweet lament about missed opportunities, and Nora Chambers’ outrageous performance of “The Dying Nun Ballet,” as interpreted by the convent’s resident novice Sister Mary Leo, who always wanted to be a ballet dancer. Also very funny is “So You Want to Be a Nun,” performed with commitment and excellent comic timing by Julia Holsworth as Sister Mary Amnesia, who can’t remember anything ever since a crucifix fell on her head. In the song, she sings a duet with a nun puppet, who appears to be possessed. Eventually Sister Mary Amnesia recalls her former life as a country Western Singer and secret millionaire.
That’s the funny thing about the Little Sisters of Hoboken.
They all seem to have secrets, and were all once been performers. Even the Reverend Mother was once a tightrope walker, and still yearns to be in the spotlight.
That’s more or less the point of “Nunsense II, the Second Coming,” running through April 26 at the Raven Theater Windsor. The very first sequel to the original, Second Coming finds the sisters back on stage for a thank you show, after everything worked our favorably enough the first time. The dead sisters have been buried, and now the only problem is that Sister Mary Amnesia, played in Windsor by Cindy Brillhart-True, might have once been a Franciscan. And having been revealed to be a millionaire, the Franciscans now want her back.
There is even less plot than the original, and the songs aren’t quite as catchy or as funny, but there is still plenty of entertainment value in seeing the Little Sisters again, all of them still wrestling with their secret desires to be famous. Sister Robert Anne, here played marvelously by Jeanine LaForge, is especially eager to prove herself, to great comic effect.
The Windsor cast, all of whom have played these roles before, bring an extra dash of confidence and character-development to their parts, which is saying something with material this light and fluffy and essentially pointless.
That said, even the Reverend Mother would agree that laughing, especially laughing at ourselves, is definitely never a sin.
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.