'Nunsense' humor is habit-forming

Nunsense Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol IN

If you don’t think “Nunsense” can be habit-forming, just ask playwright/composer Dan Goggin or the literally millions of audience members who have enjoyed the results of his efforts for the past 30 years.

The proof is on stage at the Bristol Opera House where the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Goggin’s initial effort — titled just plain “Nunsense” —opened Friday evening.

I say “just plain” because the six sequels and three spin-offs all have additions to the singular title. Having seen the original (and more sequels than I care to count), I will share my opinion that the first was (and is) the best of the lot.

“Nunsense” began as a line of greeting cards which expanded to a cabaret show and then to an off-Broadway production where it delivered “habit humor” for more than a decade and, in the process, became an “international phenomenon.”

The premise is silly but fun, the score is catchy if not memorable and the enthusiasm of the performers — a requisite for any of the seven incarnations — never wavers.

The setting is the auditorium of Mount St. Helen’s School where the background is the set for the school’s production of “Grease” or as the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Valerie Ong), mistakenly calls it, “Vasoline.”

Whatever the title, the opening number introducing the sisters is up-tempo and leaves no doubt that this is the direction for the evening (or afternoon).

Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSurvivors of a fatal batch of vichyssoise whipped up by the convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God (groans start here!), the remaining quintet is determined to raise enough money to bury the deceased nuns left above ground after the mother superior purchased a flat screen TV with part of the burial fund.

Back home in Hoboken (NJ) after a stint in a leper colony, the ladies reveal their hidden talents by putting on a fund-raising revue. Time is running out as a visit from the health inspector is imminent.

Each nun takes her turn in the spotlight but it seems that only a miracle will save them — and bury the “Blue Nuns.”

Sister Mary Regina reminisces about growing up with tightrope-walking parents and provides one of the show’s most hilarious moments examining the contents of a confiscated bottle labeled “Rush.”

Sister Mary Hubert (Christa Norwood), Mistress of Novices, believes “The Biggest Ain’t The Best” and tackles temptation with a vigorous “Time Step.”

With Sister Mary Regina — or rather nipping at her heels — is Sister Robert Anne (Stephanie Zonker Isley), assistant to Mother Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSuperior. Obviously unhappy “Playing Second Fiddle,” she examines the pros and cons of “Growing Up Catholic” and finally declares “I Just Want to Be A Star.”

With the aid of her outspoken helper Sister Mary Annette, Sister Mary Amnesia (Christina Herrick) explains what it takes to be a nun and reveals, finally, “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville.” Sister Mary Leo (Rachael Hall) welcomes convent life on pointe.

Under the direction of Penny Meyers and Annette Kaczanowski, the action rarely falters, with “Father” Mark Swendsen and his ecclesiastically-garbed quintet providing heavenly tempos.

As a final note, attendance past or present at a Catholic school is not necessary to “get” the jokes which have a universal appeal. And if there are some you don’t understand, Sister Mary Regina will be happy to explain it all for you — but that’s a different play.

“NUNSENSE” plays Friday through Sunday and March 20-21 in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116

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