Or so they say – and I’m here to tell you that never a truer word was spoken. Nunsense is a fast paced, loveable and hilarious show that concerns five quirky nuns of The Little Sisters of Hoboken. Since it’s off Broadway debut in 1985, Nunsense has wowed audiences all over the world and become the second longest running off Broadway show in history and it’s not hard to see why.
The show starts with a premise so deliciously ridiculous, that you can’t help but love it. Nunsense is a light and fun show with never a dull moment that relies greatly on the chemistry between the five talented girls playing the quintet of sisters and their audiences. With a range of musical styles, great singing and dancing and a little bit of audience participation (don’t be scared!), Nunsense never fails to entertain.
I have a soft spot for this show since being in a production of it (gulp!) 6 years ago, a show that my fellow nuns and I enjoyed so much that we still regularly have “nun get togethers”, and so I was greatly excited to have a chat with Nathan Firmin, director of the latest production of Nunsense, being performed by Catchment Players. With a cast of exceptionally talented girls, this show promises to be a hit!
For those of us who don’t know Nunsense, can you tell me a bit about the show?
‘Nunsense’ is a show-within-a-show focused on the fund-raising efforts of The Little Sisters of Hoboken. There has been a disaster at the convent when the cook, Sister Julia – Child of God, prepared some vichyssoise soup and nearly every sister died instantly of botulism! Fortunately (or unfortunately), when Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina, and eighteen members of the order who were off playing bingo with some Maryknolls returned to the convent, they discovered 52 sisters face down in soup. Through divine intervention Reverend Mother was instructed to use their very own Sister Mary Cardelia as a model and start a greeting card card company to raise the money to bury the dead nuns. The venture was a huge success. They used the money to bury 48 of the 52 nuns and then Reverend Mother decided to buy a home entertainment system for the convent resulting in the last four dead sisters having to be put in the freezer until further funds could be raised.
Try-outs were held and Reverend Mother hand-picked the very best of the sisters who are left and asked them to prepare an item for a fund-raising concert that best displayed their talent. The hope is that their efforts will mean they are finally able to bury the 4 remaining dead sisters.
What drew you to the show and to want to direct it?
There are so many things about ‘Nunsense’ that ticked-the-boxes for me. I first remember seeing ‘Nunsense’ in 1992 in New Zealand and was enthralled by the energy of the show and the 5 cast members. The show itself is exceptionally funny, regardless of your faith. It is the sort of show that puts a smile on your face from start to finish. Also, the appeal of the chance to work with a small cast of talented women – PLUS its about nuns! There is something mysterious and fascinating about nuns. So when the opportunity arose to direct the show I jumped at it.
What do you think it is that makes Nunsense such an enjoyable show for audiences?
The nuns – people fall in love with them. They are funny and quirky and sassy and flawed. Each character has their moment in the spotlight, letting the audience into the world of the convent. There are moments when you want to cheer with them and moments where your heart melts for them. The characters are one of the main reasons ‘Nunsense’ has had such a celebrated history over the past 25 years and has spawned 7 sequels.
Can you tell us a bit about the loveable cast of characters in Nunsense?
Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina – She got us into this mess and she is going to get us out of it. She is the beloved Mother Superior of The Little Sisters of Hoboken and originally from a small county in Ireland called Kilquirky. She has never told the other sisters this, but she does have experience performing in front of large crowds – she is from a family of tight–rope walkers.
Sister Mary Hubert – The Mistress of the Novices –The right hand of Reverend Mother. Sister is a little "off-the-wall" at times, but does stick to her mantra of "gentle, but firm". She is not backward in letting you know she one day aspires to be Mother Superior.
Sister Mary Amnesia –Not much is known about Sister Amnesia, she mysteriously appeared at the convent one day and all she could tell the other sisters was that a crucifix had fallen on her head. She is every thing her name suggests.
Sister Mary Robert Anne –Originally from Canarsie, NJ, Robert Anne is the ‘hip’ nun. Because of her street-wise background she finds it easy to relate to her students. She also has a wicked sense of humour and can do some pretty amazing tricks with her veil.
Sister Mary Leo – The Novice –Leo is the youngest and newest member of the Order. She entered the order to dedicate her life to God through the dance. A lot of people believe she took her name from the famous "leotard". But this is not true. She was named after her Uncle Leo, a notorious Chicago gangster.
What can audiences expect to see in your production of Nunsense?
Punny, Nun Fun. It really is a feel-good musical, chock full of laughs and the occasional mishap, the sort only live theatre can bring.
Tell us about your fantastic cast and what you are seeing in rehearsals so far?
The cast, Jennie Kellaway, Natasha Bassett, Alexandra Clover, Rachel Juhasz and Alison McIntosh are really rising to the occasion. Rehearsals are a real hoot. This group of talented women have taken these characters by the horns. It is a joy to see them constantly experimenting with the characters, trying to milk the script for every gag possible. They are all extremely hard working and don’t even get me started on how good they all look in a habit…
And speaking of the cast (okay, I grant you, that was a pretty unsubtle segue!), I was also lucky enough to get to chat to some of the members of this talented cast. I spoke with Rachel Juhasz (Sister Robert Anne), Alison McIntosh (Sister Leo) and Jennie Kellaway (Reverend Mother) and asked them about their inspiration for their roles.
Rachel: I’m going for a cross between the tomboy Anybodys in West Side Story and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. An enthusiastic, ball of energy funster with a wise cracking mouth.
Ally: My inspiration for Sister Mary Leo comes from the vitality of youth and exhilaration of dance.
Jennie: I was inspired to audition for the show because of the great roles for funny women. I guess you could call me a serial nun!
Tell me about the rehearsal process and the cast camaraderie? Is it easier or harder working with a small cast of women vs a big "co-ed" cast?
Rachel: I’ve found the rehearsal process quite full on for something that on the face of it seems like a pretty simple show. But I suppose because the songs aren’t well known we’ve had to learn them from scratch and then the harmonies can be quite tricky. On top of that we have to dance AND be funny. I dread to think what it’ll be like once we add the costumes! So it’s been quite daunting. But on the flipside I’ve got to work with a bunch of women whom for the most part I’d never met before but always admired and enjoyed their work and talent. Just watching them do their thing inspires me and reminds me why I’m involved in this crazy world. Working in a small group can be easier because you feel like you can focus more and get things done quickly. But it can be harder confidence wise because you feel more individual pressure to make the show a success, pull your weight and measure up.
Ally: it is certainly different working with such a small cast, rehearsals have been more focused and we have all had the opportunity of one on one time with Nathan and Adeline. We have all had fun working together, the small cast has definitely been great in building camaraderie, but not only amongst us "sisters" but with the production team as well.
Jennie: We came together as a cast -some knowing each other from other shows. I had long been a fan of Natasha’s and we worked together in ‘Little Women’ earlier this year and so to do so again was fantastic. I worked with Alex in a panto years ago and we see each other at shows and always connect. She is also a teacher and we swap war stories (teachers always have plenty). I have seen Rachel a number of times particularly with both of us working with Shoosh Productions last year; we knew who each other was but now I know her better I can tell you that she is also divine and very talented. Little Ally comes to rehearsals with me so I have been able to get to know her too. Yes I am the show mum and I have been baking (not with the BVM!) as we often have late afternoon rehearsals. All girls casts work well.
What do you love best about your character and the show?
Rachel: The thing I love best about the character of Sister Robert Anne is that she’s really forcing me push myself out of my natural comfort zones and let loose. Like a lot of performers, in real life I can be quite shy. While rehearsing for this role I have been trying really hard not to be held back by inhibitions so I can play this role like it’s supposed to be played. And I intend to harness the feeling and incorporate a bit of Robert Anne into my everyday life when it’s all over Oh, and I’ve learnt to wolf whistle. I’m very proud of that!
As for the what I love best about the show…I get to dress up like a nun. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do that!
Ally: What do I love best about Leo? Definitely her optimism and bubbly nature. Nunsense is not just funny, but fun to be in and part of.
Jennie: This is such a special show and ridiculously funny. It is even funnier because of the audience participation. Nathan has really gone all out to make this a fantastic show. His chore is amazing- I mean really, tap dancing nuns! He has us all working very hard. It is his attention to detail and the research he has done which is bordering on nun obsessive.
Rev Mother is such great role. She has an Irish accent and a tricky knee! (that explains my dancing! although Nathan has made dance captain!) My life is totally out of control with my teenage kids who will be on a band tour Prod week, a husband who is currently in Dubai and working in the eastern suburbs most interesting (read insane!) primary school. But theatre is so good for you. When any of us have had a drama in our lives and we have had them, we are there for each other, very much like another cast I know well.
I just can’t wait to be back in the habit again.
So there you have it, I for one am very excited about getting down to see this wonderful show with its exceptionally talented directing team and cast. I hope to see you there getting into the habit!
Nunsense is Directed and Choreographed by Nathan Firmin with Musical Direction by Adeline Han and features Natasha Bassett, Alexandra Clover, Rachel Juhasz, Jennie Kellaway and Alison McIntosh. Nunsense is being presented by Catchment Players of Darebin Inc. and is playing at the Banyule Theatre, Buckingham Drive, Heidelberg from October 28th to 31st. Bookings – 0437 228 246.