It started with a greeting card, and 21 years later, the Little Sisters of Hoboken are starring in their fifth musical comedy, Meshuggah-Nuns!, which the Toledo Repertoire Theatre opens tomorrow.
Some background may be in order.
According to the book It's a Hit! by David Sheward, the Nunsense franchise is rooted in Dan Goggin's line of humorous greeting cards, featuring actress Marilyn Farina in a nun's habit. "Farina would appear in costume at card stores to promote the product, and Goggin would write material for her," Sheward writes.
This gradually developed into a cabaret act, then, in 1985, Nunsense opened off-Broadway.
The show revolved around the five remaining members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken. They were off playing bingo one evening when Sister Julia Child of God inadvertently did in the rest of the order by feeding them tainted soup. In order to raise burial funds, Mother Superior, Sister Mary Hubert, Sister Mary Leo, Sister Mary Amnesia, and Sister Robert Ann decided to stage a talent show.
The rousing popularity of Nunsense - it became the second-longest running off-Broadway show after The Fantasticks - led to Nunsense II - The Second Coming, Nunsense Jamboree, Nun-Crackers, Nunsense A-Men! (which was the original show, performed by men), and Meshuggah-Nuns! which opened in 2002.
"[Meshuggah-Nuns!] is just as hysterical as the first show," says Jim Norman, who is directing the production for the Rep.
It all takes place on a ship, while four of the nuns - Sister Leo got lost somewhere along the line - are on a Faith of the Nations cruise. They are looking forward to a production of Fiddler on the Roof, but a week-long storm puts the entire cast, save for Howard, the man playing Tevye, out of commission with seasickness.
With no way to entertain his guests, the captain implores the Little Sisters of Hoboken to band together with Howard and come up with a show. They agree, and the Reverend Mother and Howard sit down to figure out the similarities in the Jewish and Catholic faiths.
This leads to songs such as "Contrition (A Song of Guilt)," "Say It in Yiddish," and "If I Were a Catholic."
"I am blessed in my cast," Norman says. Three of the Rep's original Nunsense cast members are reprising their roles.
Rosemary O'Brien, who plays the Reverend Mother, is leaving the comfort of her North Carolina retirement home to do the show as a favor to him, Norman says. She will be joined by Amy Scott, the original Robert Ann, and Janna Ravel, the original Mary Hubert.
Cindy Bilby takes over the role of Sister Mary Amnesia, and audiences new to the Nunsense series may want to know that Sister Amnesia got her memory back in the first show but kept the name.
Howard will be played by Jeffrey J. Albright, who has directed such Rep productions as Spike Heels and Mornings at Seven and appeared in A Christmas Carol and Born Yesterday.
"Meshuggah-Nuns!" opens tomorrow in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 Tenth St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays as well as May 4. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. April 30 and May 7. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors. Information: 419-243-9277.
The Coming Attraction Players have scheduled a staged reading of Jane Martin's Keely & Du, a work examining both sides of the abortion issue, at Brewed Awakenings coffee house.
The play, which has adult themes and language, is told from two points of view.
The first is that of Keely, a young woman who, en route to having an abortion, is taken hostage by a pro-life group that intends to force her to carry the fetus to term. The second is that of Du, the nurse assigned to look after Keely, both for health and for security reasons.
Though they have different opinions, a bond forms between the women and their conversations explore the various aspects of the right-to-life debate.
Keely & Du was originally staged at the Humana Festival in Louisville and was a finalist for the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
"Keely & Du" is scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday in Brewed Awakenings, 2626 West Central Ave. Admission to the staged reading is free, but seating is limited.