Habit-forming fun: Encore Musicals' to stage 'Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version' this weekend

Encore Musicals of Owensboro will bring together hints of religion, laughs and more in its production of “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version” at 7 p.m. today, April 26, at Third Baptist Church, 527 Allen St.

The show is based on composer, lyricist and writer Dan Goggin’s original 1985 comedy musical “Nunsense,” which was first made into a cabaret performance before expanding into a full-length musical.

The original “Nunsense,” which exclusively consists of only five women playing nuns, opened Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in December 1985, followed by a small stint at the Sheridan Square Playhouse from late February to early September the following year before finding a permanent home at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre until October 1994.

According to New York City-based theatrical licensing and publishing company Concord Theatricals and Nunsense.com, the show details the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken in New Jersey who put on a variety show after discovering that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned and killed 52 of the sisters. The show is created as the sisters are “in dire need” to raise funds for the burials.

“The convent had the money to bury 48 of the sisters, but there are four more that they had to put in the freezer because they didn’t have the money for their burials,” said Ronda Rodgers, the director of Encore’s production. “So the premise of the show is a benefit to raise the money to bury those last four sisters; and all kinds of hilarious things happen in the process.”

Regarding the sisters who survived the poisoning, Rodgers said it was because “they were at a neighboring convent playing bingo.”

Over the course of its original production’s 10 year-run, “Nunsense” went on for 3,672 performances and has since become the second-longest Off-Broadway show in history.

It went on to win four Outer Critics Circle Awards in 1986, including “Best Off-Broadway Musical.”

Since then, the show has been adapted for television twice and has led to six sequel shows and three spin-off productions including “The Mega-Musical Version” that Encore is putting on — also headed by Goggin — which has been described as “super-sized” in comparison to the original, according to Concord Theatricals.

For Encore’s take on this particular spin-off, Rodgers said the show will include 11 performers — 10 nuns and one friar, with the latter being played by the only male cast member.

“They’ve been great to work with. They have really become a family,” she said of the cast. “We’ve got a great mix of veteran actors that have done things that the audience will be familiar with, … but the neat thing about this show is probably about half the cast hasn’t done anything with Encore before.

“(The audience) is going to see really great performances from new faces. I think that’s exciting.”

Rodgers said the audience will see those playing the sisters’ ”doing different performances and displaying their talents” throughout the “benefit,” among other storylines.

“Sister Julia, Child of God, has written a cookbook for this to share and to supposedly sell to raise money,” she said, “but (the other nuns) discover … some recipes in it that should not be sold to the public.”

In addition to the comedy in the show, like the storyline of the nun they call Sr. Mary Amnesia who had “a crucifix (fall) on her head and she doesn’t remember who she is,” Rodgers said there are some “touching” parts throughout the production.

“(Sister) Robert Anne is a nun that is considered ‘street-wise’ and grew up in Brooklyn, and she has a lovely scene where she shares about growing up, and the challenges she had with her family and how Sister Rose Frances (a teacher of her’s as a child) was so important to her,” Rodgers said. “Probably the most touching song in the show is (Robert Anne’s) song, ‘Growing Up Catholic.’ ”

Another storyline of the show Rodgers emphasizes includes Sister Mary Leo, the youngest and the novice, who has aspirations to be the first nun ballerina.

“She does a song where she actually does a ballet, and does a fabulous job in her (religious) habit,” Rodgers said.

Additionally, Rodgers said the crowds present at each show will also play some type of role, though before the action begins.

“Because of the bingo connection, a couple of the nuns are actually leading the audience in bingo for 15 minutes prior to curtain,” she said. “They will be doing real bingo with cards, a little bingo ball (cage) and having a lot of fun with that and some prizes.”

Rodgers had some familiarity with this version of the show already as she was a cast member in the same production put on by another local performing arts organization, Theatre Workshop of Owensboro, in 2012.

Being in the director’s chair this time around has been “great fun,” Rodgers said.

“I feel like I’ve added some things that I’d hate to give away too much of,” she said. “... I think I have a couple things that I really want to be a surprise ….”

Regardless of what night people come out, Rodgers is hopeful they will “have a blast.”

“I think there are scenes where you laugh till your stomach hurts because it’s really funny,” she said. “We want (them) to come away just feeling like you’ve forgotten about stress for a couple hours and really had a great time.”

Additional performances of Encore’s production of “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version” will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are available for purchase at encoreowensboro.com.