You’d think that the comic premise of nuns behaving badly would eventually lose its novelty, but Dan Goggin’s musical comedy “Nunsense” has proven that theory wrong, spinning out one popular sequel after another since its 1985 Off-Broadway premiere.
The Civic Theatre dusts off the habits for another production of “Nunsense” tonight – they’ve performed it and several of its sequels numerous times since 1990, most recently in 2011 – but there’s one new wrinkle this time: All the roles are being played by men.
Cleverly titled “Nunsense A-Men,” this show is sort of a last-minute addition to the Civic’s current season. Tonight’s premiere was originally slated for a production of “Nunsensations,” the fifth sequel in the series, but after star Kathie Doyle-Lipe was injured and wasn’t able to perform, director Troy Nickerson called in a group of male actors to put on “A-Men” instead.
This all-male version debuted in Brazil in the late ’90s and has since become a popular alternative to the original “Nunsense.” The only difference in the basic material is that all the songs have been translated into keys that are more manageable for male voices.
“It’s actually played straight – we don’t make any comments that they’re men,” Nickerson said. “It’s interesting that you actually forget they’re men. You start going along with the story, and as much as they can make you laugh, you can also be very touched by them. These guys are good actors.”
All of the well-known characters from the “Nunsense” world are here – there’s the hard-nosed Mother Superior Mary Regina, the streetwise Sister Robert Anne, the competitive Sister Mary Hubert – and the show follows the familiar plot in which the sisters host a fundraiser to finance the burial of a group of nuns who were accidentally poisoned. It might be the same show on the surface, but a number of the jokes take on a new context when you know that Mother Superior is being played by a man.
“Doing it with the guys this time has been really fun,” Nickerson said. “I had a really good time, and they’re going to be wonderful.”
When Nickerson says “this time,” he’s not kidding: He says he’s been involved with 13 different “Nunsense” productions over the years – he’s directed it, he’s choreographed it, he’s played the Reverend Mother role himself – and he’s pretty certain that this will be his last.
“I usually go into a show pretty fresh, but here I know every single word,” he said. “So if they even falter, I can scream every line of the show. It’s a little annoying at times, I’m afraid.”
“Nunsense” has proven to be such a success not because it’s making fun of the nuns, but because it allows the nuns to break free and be goofy. There’s something inherently comic about stringent conventions – be they social, religious or cultural – being upended, about stern authoritarian figures embroiled into chaos and anarchy.
“Nuns doing silly and naughty things are funny,” Nickerson said. “Guy nuns doing those things can be really funny.”
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