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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical’ a hoot in Weyauwega

Critic At Large

The Waupaca Community Theatre

Basic setup for “Nuncrackers” by The Waupaca Community Theatre in Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega. (Warren Gerds)

WEYAUWEGA, Wis. (WFRV) – Here’s a special theatrical equation: Faith + humor = “Nunsense.”

That magical mix is especially happening at the Gerold Opera House as The Waupaca Community Theatre unleashes “Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical” in four performances.

The show is one of a series by creator Dan Goggin about a fictional order of Roman Catholic nuns who always seem to be putting on a show. This one is as if the nuns are stars of their own in a cable access TV show. That’s something that hardly exists anymore, but the vote result from opening night Thursday likely would be “Who cares? This is fun!”

Singing nuns. Dancing nuns. Puppets. Kids in the cast. Goofy costumes. Groaner puns. Lessons in living. A broad band of humor styles. A live orchestra with players dressed as sisters (in nun veils) and a brother. Original songs. Sing-alongs. Little quizies. Big laughs. Sensitive stuff. Holy cow, this show is packed.

There’s even a TV set showing the action on stage from an in-house camera that is part of the illusion of a TV show happening.

Sign near entry. (Warren Gerds)

The Waupaca Community Theatre project is impressive – big and elaborate and brimming with talent. The experienced cast clicks as co-director/choreographers Liz Kelley and Linda Trepasso let their imaginations fly. Highlights:

+ A re-creation of “The Nutcracker Ballet” – full story but fractured. Reverend Mother (Lori Zelinske) dances in a puffy pink skirt while Father Virgil (Dean Sondrol) tries to hog the attention because of this other highlight:

+ Dressed and speaking in a squeaky voice as Julia Child of God (a tease of beloved chef Julia Child), Father Virgil makes a recipe for Christmas fruitcake with rum that he nips… and nips… and nips – and winds up loopy.

+ A “Secret Santa” routine with Sister Mary Paul – Sister Amnesia (Kira Morrissey) quizzing randomly selected audience members on catechism-like matters. One prize is a stick-on Ten Commandments set. “If you don’t like one (commandment),” Sister Amnesia advises, “you can just take it and throw it away.” Kira Morrissey has a gift for spontaneous interplay with people – like she’s a natural at it.

+ Bits with hand puppets (custom made), complete with voicing and singing.

+ “Santa’s Little Teapot,” a quaint song sung by the five youngsters who wear body boards that are parts of a teapot… that percolates. The youth are as attuned to the humor and action as the adults.

+ Luster in voices in story-songs, including by Lori Zelinske (Mother Superior) in “A Carnival Christmas,” Lori Bauer (Sister Robert Anne) in “Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn” and Carmen Riebel (Sister Mary Hubert) in the rousing, bluesy message-filled finale “It’s Better to Give.”

+ Malaprops by Sister Amnesia (Kira Morrissey), who regularly comes out with props and the kids singing carols with the wrong words. For one, “The Waffle Song” (with prop waffles on sticks) instead of “The Wassail Song.”

+ Messages. Creator Dan Goggin – who makes his shows all-original – always weaves in layers of warmth and kindness. That goes extra for this Christmas show.

The theater, which was filled Thursday night, was abuzz from the start. I think part of that was the adventure of being in the historic Gerold Opera House.

One more tale: Years ago – last century, 1997 – I had the opportunity to interview Dan Goggin in association with a production of “Nunsense II” in the Green Bay area. “The characters are based on five real nuns who know who they are and also are huge fans of the show,” he said. “It’s based on their senses of humor and how they would deal with some of these crazy predicaments. It’s very much real life. It’s not parody. It’s the funny side of nuns as I saw them and grew up with them.”

***

Running time: Two hours, 18 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 10-11 and 2 p.m. Dec. 12

Info: fineartsfestival.org

Note: Masks are required of audience members due to COVID-19 considerations.

Creative: Book, music and lyrics – Dan Goggin; co-directors – Liz Kelley and Linda Trepasso; music coordinator/conductor – Linda Trepasso; choreography – Liz Kelley and Linda Trepasso; rehearsal accompanist – Wanda Eikenbary; set construction – Marcel Van Camp; sound and lighting design – John Kelley, Eric Conner and Ian Teal; costuming – Gretchen Kelley; puppet construction – John Kelley; art design – Lily Zabler; sound and lighting techs – Holly Saunders and Spencer Sondrol; spotlight – Hannah Kelley

Cast:

Sister Mary Regina, Reverend Mother – Lori Zelinske

Sister Mary Hubert – Carmen Riebel

Sister Robert Anne – Lori Bauer

Sister Mary Paul A.KA. Amnesia – Kira Morrissey

Father Virgil Manly Trot – Dean Sondrol

Sister Mary Leo – Kay Ellingson

Camera Operator – Gracie Liegl

   Mount Saint Helen’s Students

Louise Mayfield – Isabella Saunders

Maria Montini – Keira Konkol

Billy Wilson – Emmett Danielson

Jamie Kelly – Allison Landre

Katie Peterson – Lili Liegl

Orchestra: Linda Trepasso (conductor), Wanda Eikenbary (piano), Emily Sipiorski (violin), Emily Block (keyboards), John Kelley (drums and percussion)

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Christmas Time is Nunsense Time” – Reverend Mother, Sisters Hubert, Robert Anne, Amnesia, Leo and Father Virgil

“Joy to the World (The Cat’s Away)” – Students

“Santa’s Little Teapot” – Students

“Twelve Days Prior to Christmas” – Sister Mary Annette (Robert Anne) with Sisters Hubert and Amnesia and Father Virgil

“The Christmas Box” – Father Virgil

“Santa Ain’t Comin’ to Our House” – Sister Amnesia with Sisters Hubert and Robert Anne and Father Virgil

“The Wassail Song” – Sister Amnesia and Students

“A Carnival Christmas” – Reverend Mother

“The Holly and the Ivy” – Sister Amnesia and Students

“The Nutcracker Ballet” – The Little Hallelujah Orchestra of Hoboken

Act II

“Three Hundred Sixty-Four Days” – Reverend Mother, Sisters Hurbert, Robert Anne and Amnesia

“Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn” – Sister Robert Ann, with Sisters Hubert and Amnesia, Father Virgil and Students

“In the Convent” – Reverend Mother, Sisters Hubert, Robert Ann and Amnesia

“The Three Kings” – Sisters Hubert, Robert Ann and Amnesia

“The First Noel” – Sister Amnesia and Students

“All I Want for Christmas” – Sister Robert Anne

“Christmas Sing Along” – Sisters Hubert, Robert Ann, Amnesia and Leo, Father Virgil, Students and audience

“A Brand New School” – Reverend Mother, Sisters Hubert, Robert Ann, Amnesia and Leo and Father Virgil

“It’s Better to Give” – Sister Hubert with Reverend Mother, Father Virgil, Sisters Robert Ann, Amnesia and Leo and Students

***

NEXT: “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney and “Hate Mail” by Bill Corbett and Kira Oblensky as dinner theater, Feb. 11-13.

Interior overview. (Warren Gerds)

THE VENUE: Located at 136 E. Main St. in downtown Weyauwega, the Gerold Opera House was built in 1915. The building has had many lives, and key ones have been as a live performance venue, movie house and gathering place for weddings, dances and auctions. The interior is a spacious hall for approximately 250 persons. The audience enters through the rear right. In the rear left is a bar. In the front is a proscenium (flat-front) stage with royal red pull curtains. The floor is flat and consisting of fine-quality maple. The walls are tan fiber board with the look of large blocks on top, along with a dark wood fringe and darkish red below. Along the walls are sections of theater seats of red leather, with wood arms and metallic frame. The high ceiling – about 2½ stories up – is cream colored and may be imitation historic patterned tin. The eight ceiling lights are of patterned frosted glass. A balcony on the second level is fronted by a dark wood railing. Some seating is available. A projection booth is at the rear.

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