By Dan Hagen
What’s black and white and treads all over the country?
That would be the musical “Nunsense,” a 1985 show that, with its sundry sequels and spin-offs, is really more an institution now. It’s even been converted to a drag show — “Nunsense A-Men.”
|Therese Supple Kincade as the Reverend Mother|
Dan Goggin’s musical didn’t start as a show, either, but as a line of greeting cards.
Its durability springs from the awe and fear Catholic schoolchildren have for nuns, and its comedy depends — as so much of comedy has from the beginning of time — on the subversion of authority figures. That subversion soothes any ill feelings left over from hands that might once have been smacked by rulers.
But it’s the gentlest of subversions, one that finally doesn’t undermine the stature of its targets. This isn’t the acid of Christopher Durang’s “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.” As directed by John Stephens, it’s just a little lemonade, a tart, light evening’s refreshment.
Goggin’s songs are unmemorable, for the most part, but the cast at the Little Theatre is not. We have Melissa Jones as Sister Mary Leo, Jamie Finkenthal as Sister Robert Anne, Kara Guy as Sister Mary Amnesia, Sophie Grimm as Sister Mary Hubert and Therese Supple Kincade as the Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina, leader of the sadly decimated band known as the Little Sisters of Teutopolis.
The kinetic energy of these theatrical pros magnifies them to about 120 percent larger than life on stage, and holds the audience’s attention even when Goggin’s book and music might not.
You probably remember the setup — the nuns are putting on a show to raise money to bury the four “blue nuns” in the freezer, the victims of botulism from vichyssoise poorly prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. (By the way, the real French Chef, Julia Child, sniffed that vichyssoise was a mere American invention, not French at all).
Kincade opens the show by apologizing to the audience for the set, left over from a middle school production of a 1950s rock musical that she thinks is titled “Vasoline.”
The sentimental songs like “Lilacs Bring Back Memories” and “Growing Up Catholic” probably wear out their welcome quickest, sentimentality always seeming somewhat out of place in a farce. But most of the numbers are brisk and funny toe-tappers like Grimm’s “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” and Kincade’s “Turn Up the Spotlight.”
The hilarious “So You Want to Be a Nun” features Guy playing Edgar Bergen with what is essentially Charlie McCarthy in a habit, the smart-mouthed “Sister Mary Annette.” And Grimm effectively becomes Sister Mahalia to belt out “Holier Than Thou,” the rousing gospel tune that closes the show.
Guy is particularly delightful as the scatter-brained Sister Mary Amnesia, squinchy-eyed and big-voiced, as alternately loud and shy as a child, radiating an irresistible and benevolent innocence.
Kincade is another assured comedienne, and, with her natural statuesque authority, first played this role on this stage 15 years ago. She’s got this part so well down that she can simply wing it as Sister Mary Regina for a couple of hours with no script, just as she did at a recent Little Theatre fundraiser. Never missed a beat.
Nor does she here in what is probably the show’s best scene, not a song but a bit in which the mother superior ends up sniffing amyl nitrate to hilarious effect.
“Nunsense” brought the audience to its feet Sunday afternoon.
Incidental Intelligence: “Nunsense” runs through Oct. 27 at the Little Theatre, with scene design by Stephens and David Scobbie, lighting design by Chris Benefiel, costume design by Grand Ball Costumes, production stage management by Jeremy Phillips, musical direction by Kevin Long and choreography by Guy. For tickets, call The Little Theatre on the Square Box Office at (217)-728-7375 or go online at www .thelittletheatre.org.