Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Laughs Fill ‘Nunsense: The Mega-Musical’ in Green Bay

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Photo caption: From left, Aisa Rogers, Chay Austyn Schmitt, Lorelei Zimmerman, Faith Klick and Carly Jossart are featured in the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music and Theatre production of “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical.” (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay photo)

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“Nunsense” has been so popular since it arrived in 1985 that generations of performers have gotten their kicks out of what master tongue-in-cheek creator Dan Goggin started. That means generations of audiences have gotten kicks, too.

And so it is with a lively production of the beefed-up version, “Nunsense” The Mega-Musical,” that University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music and Theatre are presenting in three more performances in University Theatre.

The concept is sung in one of the songs: “Nuns are fun, perhaps a bit risqué.”

Listen closely, and Dan Goggin has slipped in bundles of double-entendre meanings that the young cast plays mostly in deadpan ways.

The basic story is a dark joke: Fifty-two nuns in a convent are deceased, the result of a flubbed recipe by their cook. All but four nuns are buried; they’re in the freezer until a fundraiser – a talent show (this show) – can be run. The surviving nuns – who were off playing Bingo at the time of the poisoning – are the talent.

This setup allows for all sorts of character-creating. One nun dreams of being a ballet star. One is a street toughie. One can’t remember her name, period. Among the nuns’ leaders, infighting simmers.

Silliness reigns, but sensitivity is not forgotten. Dan Goggin’s leg pulling still keeps in mind that the women have a calling. That is echoed in the director’s notes by John Mariano, writing of his upbringing: “The nuns at Mt. Carmel (his school) were a passionate and committed group of educators who valued and shared community. I remember them as kind and compassionate. And they could be funny.”

Thursday’s opening-night performance took a bit of time reaching a rhythm, the performers being tight and rapid-firing lines. (Personal aside: My seat was in a weird spot for sound, the amplification of the performers’ wireless headsets being focused behind me). Enthusiasm in the house eventually grabbed hold, and scenes clicked one after another.

“Nunsense” is audience-friendly from the get-go. Prior to the start, the nuns and brothers of the story drift around the aisles to chat, in character, with audience members. A key scene near the start finds Sister Mary Amnesia leading a quiz in the audience, with little prizes given. The performer has to be a quick thinker and able to handle give-and-take with individual audience-member situations, and that is in the wheelhouse of Faith Klick of this production.

Sister Mary Amnesia also has big numbers, first as a ventriloquist with a mouthy puppet, then as a country music singer. Faith Klick is nimble in character-making and colorful of voice.

Others deliver big moments:

Lorelei Zimmerman as the officious Reverend Mother when a few whiffs of Rush lead to the quite un-officious wobblies.

Carly Jossart as the toughie, Robert Anne, whose heart and soul peak in “I Just Want to be a Star.”

Chay Austyn Schmitt as the dance-minded Mary Leo, who plays up the dance comedy and scores a huge laugh as a dying swan.

Aisa Rogers as second in command Mary Hubert, who fuels the celebratory, rousing “Holier Than Thou” to cap the show.

All this is done with the orchestra on stage, its conductor Courtney Sherman dressed in a habit, in a kind of/sort of school gymnasium/auditorium. The University Theatre stage in this case has a specialized proscenium arch that is topped by a crest that reads, “In Hoc Signo Spes Mea” surrounding a cross. The words are Latin for “In This Sign is My Hope.” While the show is a large joke in tone, it is overseen by a nod to respect.

At the end, the singing, dancing (sometimes tap dancing), joke-telling, malaprop nuns received a rousing reception as a campus hit

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Creative: Book, lyrics, music – Dan Goggin; director – John Mariano; music director – Courtney Sherman; choreographer – Denise Carlson-Gardner; scenic designer – Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; costume designer – Kaoime E. Malloy; sound designer – Chloe Ledvina; lighting designer – Matthew L. Beecher; technical director – Dinesh Yadav; assistant technical director – David Cook; properties master – Hayden Barlass; stage manager – Christyna M. Nowakowski

Cast: Reverend Mother Mary Regina – Lorelei Zimmerman; Sister Mary Hurbert – Aisa Rogers; Sister Mary Amnesia – Faith Klick; Sister Robert Anne – Carly Jossart; Sister Mary Leo – Chay Austyn Schmitt; Sister Julia, Child of God – Andi Koene; Sister Mary Wilhelm – Amanda Meo; Sister Mary Brendan – Alyssa Hannam; Sister Mary Luke – Brienna Landsness; Sister Mary Virgil – Olivia Smith; Brother Timothy – Myles McKnight; Sister Mary Louise – Jessa Boris; Brother Pratt – Brandon Otten

Orchestra: Conductor – Courtney Sherman; Keyboards – Emily Sculliuffo, Beth Schulz; violin – Rachel Rice; trumpets – Zachary Mizgalski, Kameron Jennings; trombone – Rachel Rabas; reeds – Carissa Salter; bass – Jordan Jones; drums and percussion – Anthony Fenner

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17

Info: weidnercenter.com

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Program

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“Veni Creator” – Sister Robert Anne, All

“Nunsense is Habit-Forming” – All

“A Difficult Transition” – All

Scene: “The Quiz” – Sister Mary Amnesia

“Benedicite (Morning at the Convent)” – Sisters Mary Leo and Hubert

“The Biggest Ain’t the Best” – Sisters Hubert and Leo

“Playing Second Fiddle” – Sister Robert Anne

“So You Want to be a Nun” – Sister Mary Amnesia and Mary Annette

“A Good Cause” – Sisters Brendan, Robert Anne, Luke Julia, Wilhelm and Leo

“Turn Up the Spotlight” – Reverend Mother

“Lilacs Bring Back Memories” – Sisters Leo, Hubert, Amnesia and Reverend Mother

Scene: “A Word from Reverend Mother” – Reverend Mother

“Turn Off That Spotlight”/“Tackle That Temptation (with a Time Step)” – All

Act II

“Growing Up Catholic” – Sister Robert Anne and Chorus Nuns

“Got to Clean Out the Freezer” – Sisters Wilhelm, Luke, Brendan, Leo, Virgil, Hubert, Amnesia, Louise and Broteher Pratt

“Just a Coupl’a Sisters” – Reverend Mother and Sister Hubert

“Second Fiddle” (Reprise) – Sister Robert Anne

Scene: “Soup’s On (The Dying Nun Ballet)” – Sister Mary Leo with Robert Anne

Scene: “Baking with the BVM” – Sisters Regina, Hubert, Amnesia

“I Just Want to Be a Star” – Sister Robert Anne

“The Drive-In” – Sisters Leo, Amnesia and Robert Anne

“I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” – Sister Mary Amnesia

“Holier Than Thou” – Sister Mary Hubert and All

“Nunsense Is Habit-Forming” (Reprise) – All

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NEXT: “Women Playing Hamlet” by William Missouri Downs, Feb. 28, March 1-2, 6-9.

THE VENUE: Of 1970s vintage, the 450-seat University Theatre is a complex facility inside Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The theater features a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are a calm shade of red fabric, black plastic backs and light brown arms. The concrete walls gray and slightly angled. The ceiling is a semi-dark green/blue for the coverings ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Aisle carpeting is a flecked gray. The seating area in front of the stage is adjustable to accommodate an orchestra pit when needed. The theater includes two seating areas – a lower one 20 or so feet deep on a slight incline that reaches a poured concrete wall and the upper one above that “moat” that rises sharply and creates an amphitheater effect. The theater may be entered from the lower or upper level.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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