Nunsense brings Broadway to Palace Theatre

Fantastic choreography in over-the-top song-and-dance numbers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A nun raps

Courtesy of Ross Davidson

AROUND THE RAP BATTLE SCENE THEY CALL HER WHITE HABIT. Though Nunsense overdoes it on the fish-out-of-water jokes, it still succeeds in pulling the audience into the action.

Imagine a fish. Now take the fish out of the water. Watch the fish flop around until it stops being funny and you have the bread and butter of Nunsense: the Mega Musical, playing now at the Palace Theatre until March 28.

To its credit, the play has much more to offer than “nuns doing un-nunny things,” as the play’s program describes with its very appropriate neologism.

The five main characters at the beginning of the performance are indistinguishable in their matching habits, but it only takes a few musical numbers before their outrageous personalities burst out of the bland black and white to colour the entire theatre.

Nunsense is based around the Little Sisters of Hoboken " what’s left of them, anyway " trying to raise enough money to bury the final few sisters killed in a cooking accident that claimed 52 lives. From the ironic cookbooks sold by the characters to the “thank you” signs from the fictional nunnery, Nunsense depends on an audience investing a great deal into its ludicrous premise. This is accomplished from the second the audience enters the theatre.

The genius of the play "¬and a likely reason why it’s been reproduced successfully so many times since it was first staged in 1985 " is that the entire theatre becomes a black hole where everything, including the audience, becomes a part of the show. The actors often sneak around the theatre to use audience members spontaneously to enrich "or perhaps endanger " the gags. As soon as you step into the building the show takes on a life of its own, leading viewers to feel like it is reality before it begins.

The intricate song and dance numbers are as over-the-top as the jokes and are the highlight of the show. The solos and duets entertain but, without question, the most impressive performances of the play involve the entire cast pulling together for a single song, knitting the cast and extras so closely together that the Palace begins to feel just a little like Broadway.

Despite being based around nuns, often singing about their lives as Catholic clergywomen, any talk about God or religion is in the margins and remains generally neutral " probably a good idea given the lightheartedness of the play. There are times, however, when the actions, words or personalities of the nuns are so ridiculous that they can’t help but send shocks through the bubble the play works so hard to keep the audience within.

In the end, Nunsense, even with its fantastic choreography and adorable characters, is a fish-out-of-water comedy and there are only so many times a nun can do something a nun wouldn’t normally do before it starts to get tiresome. Given that, the miracle that sets all the conflicts in the story to rest " appropriately discovered through song " rounds off the play nicely before anything becomes stale.

Nunsense proves that it really is the mega musical it claims to be. It’s light, fun and humorous and the endearing characters and catchy songs only serve to help. It’s a play that has been adapted numerous times and spawned several sequels because it takes a standard motif in comedy and adds a load more.

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