WARSAW, In. — Dan Goggins’ “Nunsense” began with a line of nun-based greeting cards which became a cabaret which became one of the longest-running off-Broadway musicals of all time It began in 1985 and subsequently spawned five “sequels,” none of which come close to the original. It would be difficult for any average theater-goer over the age of 12 to have missed a “Nunsense” production, professional or amateur. Being an avid theater-goer, I must have seen at least a dozen, so I can say unreservedly that the “Nunsense” which opened Wednesday evening at the Ramada Wagon Wheel Theatre is one of the best — if not THE best — I’ve ever seen.
Under the direction of Scott Michaels, who has assembled the perfect cast for this season finale, the five ladies portraying the Little Sisters of Hoboken have talent and timing and use both to create the wackily hilarious individuals who hide diverse talents under their habits. And oh, yes. They certainly can sing! For those who need a slight refresher on the very slight plot: The sisters are among those remaining after a less-than-nutritious vichysoisse prepared by convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God, sent 52 of their order to their heavenly reward. The sale of greeting cards proved successful enough to pay for 48 burials when an over-confident Mother Superior spent the rest on a DVD player. So. . .four nuns rest in the convent freezer with the New Jersey Department of Health demanding their immediate internment and the live sisters determined to raise the necessary funds through a benefit show. Let the laughs begin! Actually, they begin before the opening chords led by Brother Tom (music director Thomas N. Sterling) and his excellent band of brothers (Farrell Vernon and Sean Rollins) as the sisters chat with audience members urging them to greet the Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina (Beckie Menzie) with an enthusiastic cheer. It is absolutely no problem and only the first of many, many enthusiastic responses to each of the “sisters.” In addition to Menzie, making up the ecclesiastical quintet are Chelsea Waller as Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices and second in command and looking to move up; Jennifer Dow as Sister Robert Anne, “streetwise” sister in charge of the convent transportation and show understudy; Ashley Travis as Sister Mary Leo, a novice who aspires to be the first ballerina nun; and Jennie Sophia as Sister Mary Amnesia, who has lost her memory due to a collision with a crucifix. Each has her own “star turn” in this “Nunsense” and it is absolutely impossible to select any “bests.” Every one is a standout and deserves the rounds of extended applause/cheers. It starts with the ensemble declaring “Nunsense Is Habit Forming” and explaining the sisters’ “Difficult Transition” from tending an island leper colony to the inner shores of Hoboken, but pay attention, “The Quiz” follows.
And indeed there is one, conducted by Sophia, with prizes for correct answers. Her beautifully baffled gaze never falters. and is never derailed. Travis details, on pointe, the joys of the morning “Benedicite” and she and Waller agree “The Biggest Ain’t the Best.” Dow describes the frustrations of “Playing Second Fiddle” and Sophia delivers a lecture — with the aid (?) of Sister Mary Annette — on the pros and cons of being a nun. Menzie describes growing up in a circus family and reveals she’d like to “Turn Up the Spotlight”and samples — disastrously — a gift box of Jack Daniels Chocolates. The result is definitely one of the show’s funniest moments. Act One ends with Waller and the sisters determined to “Tackle That Temptation Witb a Time Step.” This is only half the fun and I could go on, but you absolutely should see for yourself! Menzie, an award-winning Chicago cabaret ainger/pianist, is amazing in a role that has to be outside her comfort zone! Sophia, Travis and Dow prove again — if any proof is needed after their widely varied performances this season — that they can do just about anything, and Waller ranks right up there with the group of sensational show-stoppers. I defy you to sit still when she leads the nuns — and much of the audience — in “Holier Than Thou.” I could swear the roof rose at lease several inches! If you have seen “Nunsense” in any of its forms, don’t hesitate to see this one . . . or see it again. If you’ve never had the pleasure, this is definitely the one.
“Nunsense” plays through Sept. 5 in the arena theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For show times and tickets, call 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com