Nunsense, the smash Off-Broadway hit that became an international habit, has spawned a fourth spinoff, Meshuggah-Nuns, an entirely new show with a touch of Yiddish, beginning previews Sept. 6 at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' Fireside Theatre in Minneapolis.
Director-writer-creator Dan Goggin told Playbill On-Line the idea for show No. 5 in the popular series came about after Jewish audiences asked him when he was going to write Rabbi Sense. The Catholic-bred Goggin told them he would if he could, but Jewish culture wasn't his strong suit.
Producers over the years told him that if there was a Jewish angle to the show, it would run in Florida for years. On top of that, a friend suggested to Goggin: "Wouldn't be funny if the nuns were on a cruise ship and the entertainers all got sick?"
All of these ideas and suggestions blended and brewed, and Goggin began to write Meshuggah-Nuns in 2001, placing four nuns from the original show on The S.S. Golden Delicious, "the apple of the Eden Line." On the ship, they must step in and create a revue for the passengers who are disappointed when the on-board cast of Fiddler on the Roof gets seasick. Only Howard Liszt, the actor playing Tevye, is well enough to go on, so he performs with the nuns, even offering a lesson in Yiddish, "Say It in Yiddish."
The new musical will officially open in the Chanhassen complex Sept. 19. Its run there is open-ended run. Goggin will direct, as he has all initial stagings of his Nunsense works. At least five regional productions of Meshuggah-Nuns are already lined up, including the Hollywood Playhouse (where Too Jewish? star Avi Hoffman will headline) in Hollywood, FL (starting Oct. 23), Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT (January 2003), and Meadow Brook Theatre in metro Detroit (spring 2003). *
The famed Little Sisters of Hoboken — Sister Mary Hubert, Sister Robert Anne, Mother Superior and Sister Mary Amnesia — are all part of the new nonsense.
Nunsense began at the Duplex in Manahattan in 1983 and then premiered Off-Broadway in 1985, enjoying a long run and prompting tours and regional stagings. Goggin made his fortune on the show, although the idea had its roots in a greeting card series he co-created featuring nuns in wacky situations. Some of the cards are still available at nunsense.com but are not widely circulated in card shops.
Nunsense prompted Nunsense II and Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree (aka Sister Amnesia's Nunsense Jamboree) and Nuncrackers (a Christmas themed show) and Nunsense A-Men (an all-male cast of the original show).
Meshugga-Nuns draws on the Yiddish word, "meshuggah," which means "crazy." "Meshugganeh" is a "crazy person." The show is subtitled "the ecumenical Nunsense No. 5."
"Everytime I do a new one, I say, 'This is it — this is far as I can go,'" Goggin said. When asked if their was a patriotic Fourth of July Nunsense up his sleeve, he said that hadn't occurred to him, and jokingly promised Playbill On-Line credit for the idea if it happened.
Balancing Act was Goggin's other major show. It had a brief run Off-Broadway and has been seen regionally and London and Australia.
Barry Axtell will design the set for the initial Meshuggah-Nuns, Leo P. Carusone is musical director and orchestrator, Felton Smith will co choreograph with Teri Gibson.
Tickets range $28-$38. For information, call (952) 934 1525 or (800) 362-3515 or visit chanhassentheatres.com.
— By Kenneth Jones