The penguins sing and dance6/17/2015
In Winterset, the evening I saw “Nunsense,” they had a Classic Car invitational in the square. A cherry 1940s Mercury sat next to a sleek ’60s Mustang. Such wheels are impractical, of course — think of the gas mileage — but they make scrumptious eye candy. I got my fill, putting off my tenderloin at Northside Café (where Clint Eastwood met Meryl Streep, in “Bridges of Madison County”).
And the point of my road trip, “Nunsense,” itself, proved more of the same: an impossible piece of work that nonetheless delivered terrific pleasure.
Impossible, because how can a person make a play out of greeting cards? These first showed up in stores about 1980 and featured cartoon nuns drawn by Dan Goggin. A former seminary student, Goggin now worshipped musical theater, and when the cards proved a hit, he worked up a screwball revue, very Off Broadway. “Nunsense,” nonsense — yet by now this lunacy has enjoyed thousands of productions worldwide, with gross profits of half a billion dollars.
The show’s magic has a lot to do with its simplicity. At Winterset, there was just one musician, Acacia Scott, at a keyboard back of center stage. She swung ably through a number of different styles including a hymn and razzamatazz. The set never changes either — though it’s actually a set for the musical“Grease,” with the soda shop and everything, done up in candy colors by designer Mark Wines.
The older musical is this year’s eighth-grade show at Mount St. Helen’s. Tonight, however, a few of the teachers, nuns, need the auditorium. They’ve whipped up a fundraiser, trying to do right by a few other sisters, unexpectedly poisoned and currently stashed in the freezer. Nutty as this backstory is, too, it contributes to the streamlining. The five players are never out of their habits, and this becomes part of the joke. The penguins sing and dance.
Or could they be orcas? At one point, the Mother Superior, stoned out of her gourd, rolls on the floor, crying: “Free Willy! Free Willy!”
This was Veronica Dumas-Wines, possibly the oldest onstage, yet never shy about getting silly. As for her singing, she handled the lower register effectively, and all the voices held up. But no one could match soprano Meredith McKay as Sister Mary Amnesia. McKay pulled some fine cockamamie faces, too, and she understood how she had to work with the others.In its solo numbers, “Nunsense” comes closest to dragging. We don’t care how these women feel. So Sister Amnesia and the others keep bursting into harmony, and they make the crowd part of things. In Winterset, the group feeling came across especially at the start of the second act when director Cindy Stanbro had the sisters emerge out of the audience, swapping jokes. It was as if were all watching cartoons.
Overheard in the Lobby: Lincoln Ginsburg and Jessica Martens were named the winning Triple Threats at the Iowa High-School Musical Theater Awards. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.