by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Five nuns who know how to make religion fun – by mixing in song-and-dance, comedy, even a puppet in a habit – are on stage this weekend and next in Elk River Community Theatre’s “Nunsense.”
Theatre-goers have enjoyed this musical comedy by Dan Goggin in over 5,000 productions worldwide over 25 years and ERCT has a strong cast to deliver an entertaining local production.
The first of seven performances took place Friday night at ERHS’s Little Theatre. See schedule at right.
Nunsense begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide to raise the money with a variety show.
DeeDee Buckley of Roseville plays Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer. Paul Olson of Zimmerman plays Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices and No. 2 nun in the convent. Jennifer Piehl of Rogers plays Sister Robert Anne, a streetwise nun from Brooklyn. Katie Wolf of Elk River plays Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a ballerina wannabe. Ingird Moss of Rogers plays spacy Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucific fell on her head.
“We have an extremely talented cast,” said director Eileen Bowersox. “With only five parts, they have to be spectacular, and they are.”
Bowersox initially tried to do “Nunsense” two years ago. She couldn’t come up with a satisfactory cast, in part because a snowstorm scuttled one night of auditions.
But one big plus from that foiled venture was that Buckley showed up at ERCT for the first time, eager to play Mother Regina. The retired executive has stuck around and lent her powerful voice and personna to five ERCT plays including the wicked witch in “Snow White” and Mother Superior in “Sound of Music.” And now she f gets to play her coveted role.
Buckley, Piehl and Moss were all in “Sound of Music” last summer, and implored Bowersox to give “Nunsense” another shot. Bowersox knew all three of them could do the job so she went ahead with it. When Wolf graduated from Concordia (Moorhead) where she was in theatre, and returned home to a business job, Bowersox had her fourth nun. Wolf also directed an ERCT play last year, “The Grinch.”
As for Sister Hubert, Bowersox and other actors started kidding Paul Olson about playing her while he was working on a part as the tormented mental patient in “Dracula” this fall.
“Then they finally asked me to do it,” said Olson, a speech language pathologist at Salk Middle School. “It’s a very interesting and intriguing challenge, to be a man playing a woman who on top of that is a nun, which is one of the reasons I agreed to do it.”
His role is often played by men because the music for Sister Hubert is lower range. With Buckley also deep-voiced, the two of them have meshed well together.
Moss, a stay-at-home mom to three kids, came to ERCT last year with a good background, studying music and theatre in college and having done TV, corporate theatre, a Guthrie play, Buffalo community theatre and the local movie “The Prodigal” (not yet released).
Unlike Buckley and Piehl, Moss said she’d never seen “Nunsense” or knew much about it, but was captivated once she read the script.
“I didn’t know it would be so funny. And the music is clever, taking other types of music that people are familiar with,” she said. The song she sings with her nun puppet stems from Mozart’s “Queen of the Night.
So, how do Catholics feel about this play? Bowersox said she got an indication when she served as music director of a production 20 years ago, noting that a group of nuns showed up. and “howled (with laughter) the whole time.”
This show includes audience participation (including a quiz), star turns, tap and ballet dancing, and comic surprises. As the flyers for “Nunsense” always quip, it would be a sin to miss it.
At Little Theatre ERHS
Friday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 13, 3 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 20, 3 p.m.
For advance tickets, see erct.org