They’re back, those capering, singing, dancing nuns, who overturn the image of the staid, quiet, reserved women following a religious life that is anything but fun-loving. Now the five Little Sisters from Hoboken cavort, joke, pun, and frolic in “Nunsensations!,” a Las Vegas extravaganza. This, the sixth and newest show in Dan Goggin’s series of nun musicals, is running at Off-Broadstreet Theater weekends through Saturday, August 26. (You met the sisters here, same time last year, in Goggin’s “Meshuggah-Nuns!”) The women, slim or sizeable, wear nun’s habits but sing, dance, frolic, and wiggle their rears as if they didn’t. Watching nuns on stage in Las Vegas is a sensation in itself and half the fun.
Goggin wrote the book, music, and lyrics, which are clever and sometimes a touch naughty — that’s a first for the “Nunsense” series. “T and A — talent and attitude,” opines the Reverend Mother.
Like the Reverend Mother, (Eileen Luscombe), three of the sisters are new to OBT: Sister Mary Hubert (Amy Blair); Sister Mary Leo (Laura Chaneski), the dancer; and Sister Amnesia (Joanna Woodruff), the puppeteer. Sister Robert Anne (Michelle Russell) is back from last year. But with white wimples tight around their faces and black habits covering the rest of their bodies, it is often hard to tell who’s who without a program. All are excellent, dancing with wide eyes and broad smiles. Loudly they “belt out,” as one says, their rousing songs.
Robert Thick does his usual outstanding job of direction and design in this fast-moving show. Julia Thick plotted the energetic dances, which go from shimmy to the Charleston to tap. A live three-piece band accompanies — Christopher Madison on the piano, he is also music director; Don Lebentritt on reeds, and Stephen Rockwell on percussion.
Before the show the nuns wander among the tables, chatting with the audience. You’ll learn why.
The show is, like the others in the “Nunsense” series, a cabaret show. It is set on a would-be Vegas stage of deep pink with silver stars. But what is a group of nuns doing in Las Vegas, a.k.a. Sin City? They helped a man win a bet he couldn’t get them to perform in Vegas. By performing there the teaching nuns earned $10,000 for their school. Will this escapade ruin their reputation? Unlikely. Sister Hubert and Reverend Mother sing “What Plays in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”
Since all the characters are Catholic (“Meshuggah-Nuns!” had a Jewish character to play off of), here the clever jokes and puns, woven between the songs, play off their religion, their own backgrounds (the Reverend Mother was a chorus girl), and pop culture. “He’s a contralto, not a Soprano.” Or, “Have you heard the one about the friar? Don’t boil that missionary. He’s a fryer.” There is also mention of a patron saint of compulsive gamblers. Another delight: “Who had the first computer? Eve. She had an Apple.”
Loud audience laughter greeted the rolling out of a huge slot machine called “Holy Rollers.” Its three oversized vertical cylinders, each four-sided, showing symbols for hope, charity, will, and grace. A nun calls, by name, three from the audience who mount the stage. Spin the cylinders and line up all three of the same pictures, win a car. No one does. The last audience participant gets car keys.
Since Vegas is likened to Sodom and Gomorrah, Biblical cities destroyed for wickedness, recall that as Lot and his wife escaped, Lot’s wife, defying the injunction not to look back, was turned into a pillar of salt. It’s Goggin’s brilliance to have a sister selling salt shakers as souvenirs of Vegas.
One number combines Cirque de Soleil with the sizeable Reverend Mother as the Hindenburg blimp. (It’s the show’s only leaden joke: the Hindenberg, carrying passengers, exploded horrifically over New Jersey nearly 70 years ago.)
Flashy costumes are by Rittzy Productions. Think there’s nothing remarkable about a nun’s habit? The sisters come out for their first number with peacock feathers hats and fans. For “T and A” the nuns strut out brandishing gold top hats. Later the sisters appear wearing flat glitzy large silver bras with hanging teddys worn over their nuns’ habits. These ridiculous costumes elicit continued audience glee.
The “Nunsense” series began as a joke. A friend sent Goggin a nun’s habit. Might he use it in a show? Another sent him a mannequin. After the dressed mannequin appeared on a Christmas card riding a motorcycle with the message “Hell, you’re no angel,” Goggin turned the idea into a cabaret show. “Nunsense” debuted at a small Manhattan club in 1983, then opened off-Broadway in 1985.
For “Nunsense” Goggin received the 1986 Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Music. A large cast version is being booked around the country. The second and third “Nunsense” shows have been recorded for TV. “Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical” premiered in 1998, went on a national tour, aired on public television, and received an Emmy nomination for Best Musical Score. “Meshuggah-Nuns!” is now playing in several places. A theater company in suburban San Francisco is planning a theater that will perform nothing but the “Nunsense” canon.
Speaking of gambling, note that the original $150,000 has brought investors a $3 million return.
Nunsensations!, Thursdays through Saturdays, through Saturday, August 26, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Dan Goggin’s newest Nunsense musical set in Las Vegas. $25.25 to $27. 609-466-2766.