Dan Goggin's hit 1985 musical comedy "Nunsense" has rarely seen much love from theater critics. Many of the Catholic puns are groaners, and there's little-to-no dramatic tension in the haphazardly structured show.
Yet "Nunsense" consistently proves to be crowd-pleasing catnip for audiences, particularly those who attended Catholic schools taught by habit-wearing nuns.
"Nunsense"★ ★ ½
Location: Fox Valley Repertory at Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 584-6342 or foxvalleyrep.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday as well as Feb. 6 and 13 and March 6; through March 9
Running time: About one hour, 50 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $32-$42; dinner packages available
Parking: Free adjacent lots
Rating: For teens and older: comical inhalant use and network TV-level profanities
The original off-Broadway production in New York lasted almost a decade. And Goggin's many, many "Nunsense" iterations (including a country music sequel, a Christmas show called "Nuncrackers" and one targeting Jewish audiences called "Meshuggah-Nuns!") have also been much-produced regionally and around the world.
It's easy to see why. There's a great affection for seeing five fictional Sisters of Hoboken, N.J., let loose in song and silliness -- even if the mitigating reason is a fundraising revue to bury the remaining nuns who were part of an accidental mass poisoning by the convent's cook.
Two phrases I consistently overheard during intermission at Fox Valley Repertory's current production of "Nunsense" in St. Charles were along the lines of: "The nuns I grew up with weren't like this!" or "I wish the nuns who taught us could have been like this!"
"Nunsense" is also a largely economical producing proposition, requiring only five skilled musical comedy actresses and a pianist. Fox Valley Rep's production is a fine one, yet falls a bit short of being truly memorable.
Director/choreographer Brigitte Ditmars has largely skewed her casting to younger performers. While this decision works wonders with Kristine Burdi as the novice Sister Mary Leo (who shows off her impressive ballet skills while performing en pointe in toe shoes during the number "Benedicite"), you wish that others might have been more quirky in their characterizations.
For instance, I've seen much-funnier and wackier takes on the dim, puppet-wielding Sister Mary Amnesia than the proficient one offered up by Monica Szaflik. And I also didn't get the impression that Sister Mary Robert Anne (Jane Brewer) was as tough and street-smart as her character is professed to be.
The passive-aggressive criticalness of Sister Mary Hubert is only so-so in Missy Aguilar's hands, though she does have a rousing voice in the gospel number "Holier Than Thou."
I also would have liked much more formality and sternness up front from Patti Roeder as Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior. That way, by the time Sister Mary Regina becomes loopy by accidentally getting high off an inhalant, there's a stronger contrast to show how far she has stepped out of her authoritative skin.
Still the cast, with help from the fine accompanist and music director Jeffrey Poindexter, is skilled at putting over the comical material solidly.
Fox Valley Repertory's "Nunsense" is also handsomely designed, ranging from the amusingly amateurish unit set of Mt. St. Helen's High School's 8th grade production of "Grease" by designer Stephen H. Carmody, to the flashy lighting work of designer Julie E. Ballard.
So "Nunsense" fans should largely be pleased with Fox Valley Repertory's fine, if not truly remarkable, production. And really, you still get five engaging performers portraying semi-talented nuns in habits singing and dancing for your entertainment.