A short History of the play
According to Goggin, the Nunsense story begun in 1953 and mainly was dramatized around songs and scenes as laid down by Dan Goggin. Back then, the storyline evolved around a group of nurses that had been poisoned by their cook in an accidental manner (Goggin, np). The story line at that time consisted of three nuns and a priest, and was cast in Duplex on Grove Street in Greenwich Village for thirty eight weeks. After the cast the audience begun to grow and thus Dan Goggin had to occasionally change the cast of the story (Wilmeth, 488).
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Chief characters and the actors that played the roles
According to Tamswitmark (np) the chief characters in the story are:
The Reverend Mother
The reverend mother is known as Sister Mary Regina and is assumed to have answered the call to be a nun after a tightrope accident. In real life, she is known as LaDonna Wilson.
Sister Mary Paul Amnesia
She is a teacher at The Little Sisters of Hoboken convent, and is very fond of plants. She shows this fondness through reading and dancing for the plants. In the real world, her names are Cecilee Von Rhea and she is a second year student at Parklands College majoring in theatre
This sister longed to become the first ever gospel singing pole Dancer and is apprehended by the authorities before she can execute her plans. She is also serving in the Order as Mistress of Novices, and training new recruits. She goes by the name Sherrika Ellison in the real world. Presently, she is a renowned singer.
Sister Leo was so happy to have been allowed to dance and her main role at the convent is to instruct on dance. Her real name is Ariella Cohen and she is a sophomore studying Theater.
Sister Robert Ann
In the play, Sister Robert is known as the valedictorian of her class. In the real world, her actual name is Stevie Schein. Stevie is famous for her research in the child growth and development area.
Father Virgil Manly Trott
Father vigil is a character that goes to the convent with songs and laughter. In the actual world, Father Virgil Manly Trott and Sister Mary Leo are related.
The place of events
The events of the Nunsense Christmas Musical are basically known to have occurred in a basement. This basement was typically owned by a catholic convent that was known as Mount Saint Helen’s Convent. It is for this reason that this play features mainly catholic sisters and a catholic Father. It is the first of its kind and involves both audio and video production set up through the moneys of the prize that Sister Mary Paul had won. This studio has television screens and live camera to give the audience the feeling of actually being present in a real recording television studio even though they are not.
The Nunsense Christmas Musical show is known to be an annual Christmas program that has been set for performance at the Mount Saint Helen’s. As earlier stated in details, the actors include characters of different societal status. The main characters in this play are Father Virgil Trott who is related with Sister Leo in that they share the same mothe.
There is also the Reverend Mother who goes by the name Regina, Sister Mary Paul, Sister Anne and Sister Mary. There are also two boys and two young girls. The two boys and the two girls are all students from Mount Saint Helen’s (Tamswitmark, np).
Act one begins with the rousing song ‘Christmas Time Is Nunsense Time’ where the above actors are presented to the audience. Also, during this time of introduction, we are made aware of the things that have previously been taking place in each of the cast’s past.
The act then smoothly moves on to bring out a ballet type of the original Nutcracker. However, this does not become the case for before the sister enters the stage, she suffers an accident when she is hit on the shin by a baton. This presents a dilemma for the Reverend Mother as the ballet cannot be performed.
However, for the show to proceed, Sister Amnesia goes ahead and distracts the audience with a Santa Claus cut-out as things are sorted out. At this time, the audience receives various presents while everyone sings in harmony ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.
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When this is over, students join together with the actors and their voices bend together as they sing the song I’M Santa’s Little Teapot. After the students are through with this song, Sister Mary surprises the audience when she stands up to sing the song, ‘Twelve Days Prior to Christmas.’
There is more trouble when it is brought to light that there has been a burglary and the gifts that had been placed beneath the Christmas tree have been pilfered (Tamswitmark, np).
This forces an abrupt exit of the Reverent Mother so that she can proceed with investigations. She leaves Father Virgil to carry on and he does not disappoint the eager audience. He entertains the audience with an emotional ballad called ‘The Christmas Box.’ This exceptional ballad had been composed by him specifically for his sister Mary Leo. When Father Virgil Manly Trott finishes his ballad, he brings to the audience Sister Amnesia who in turn sings her latest country hit known as ‘Santa Ain’t Comin to Our House’ (Tamswitmark, np).
After Sister Amnesia is done with her song, the Reverend Mother enters with moving stories of the years she spent in the circus. In her stories, the reverend mother has a flashback of a winter storm that trapped in a hotel room while they were with Sophie Tucker. When the Reverend Mother is done, to the amusement of the audience, and as everyone claps and responds to the melody, she begins singing the song An Old Time Carnival Christmas.
The response from the audience urges her on and on until she is done. After her, was supposed to enter sister Julia. However, there is further confusion as Sister Julia, who is also the convent cook, and who is supposed to perform does not show up for her performance. This in turn forces Father Virgil Manly Trott to practically impersonate Sister Julia. The father tries to demonstrate to the audience some Christmas cooking styles just as Sister Julia would have done. (Tamswitmark, np).
The ballet that was supposed to be performed at the beginning by Sister Mary Leo is still yet to be performed up to now and as earlier stated, the Reverend Mother had been looking for a solution to the problem. However, little does she know that the solution she has arrived at in regard to the ballet problem is the same solution that Father Virgil Manly Trott has also arrived at.
Therefore, they clash on stage to the amusement of the audience as each tries out the similar solution. This marks the end of act one when both the Reverend Mother and Father Virgil Manly unconsciously join in a ballet as Sugar Plum Fairies.
Act Two commences with the song ‘Three Hundred and Sixty Four Days’ that highlights the problems with doing last minute shopping sprees. After this, there is a performance on the ‘Living Nativity’ that features Sister Robert Anne with the Students, who sing a ballad entitled ‘Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn.’
In this ballad, Sister Robert Anne tries to remember the activities surrounding a time when her father had returned home on Christmas Eve. The popular Christmas carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is intertwined throughout this performance (Tamswitmark, np).
The performances progress without any major ado apart from the interruption from the sisters who are trying to find out the fate of the missing gifts. This however, does not interfere with the ongoing performances which progress smoothly. The Reverend Mother joins in with Sister Mary Hubert to sing a duet entitled ‘In the Convent’, after which the Saint Andrews Sisters come in a big way to present’ We Three Kings of Orient Are Us.
After their captivating performance that left the audience longing for more, it is time for mother Superior to come on stage and everyone wonders what she has in store. However, their suspense is quelled when Mother Superior unleashes a Catholic Home Shopping Service. Through this service, Mother Superior ensures that the audience are entertained to very unusual items in the name of the Christmas Spirit. (Tamswitmark, np).
The police are finally called in and the Reverend Mother is summoned upstairs to speak with them over the missing gifts and while she is gone, Sister Robert Anne entertains the audience with her song, All I Want for Christmas and after she is through, every one joins to sing out the familiar Christmas Carol tunes.
As the curtains are about to fall, it is discovered that the missing gifts were not in the actual sense stolen but had been donated to a poor family by Sister Mary Amnesia. This truth brings in a sense of guilt to the sisters who upon realizing how selfish their actions had been, allow Sister Hubert to lead in a foot stumping and hand clapping song, ‘Its Better to Give Than to Receive’. This marks the end of the show (Tamswitmark, np).
It is important to note that his show also entails traditional carols and Christmas carol spoofs. It is also filled with humor just like its three predecessors and lives to uphold its Nunsense name (Tamswitmark, np).
Why The Nuncracker is a play about Christmas
For any play to be successful, it has to be as lifelike as possible. The audience has to be immersed in it to the point that the action on the stage becomes real, and their own lives recede into a distant nebulous, at least until they are released from the web of action that the drama unfolding embroils them in.
Directors and producers use different elements of drama to achieve this; from the speech of the actors, to their gestures, the costumes they wear, and the props used on stage to create an atmosphere.
Imagine The Nuncracker with the cast all wearing industrial overalls and acacia trees painted in the background. All the while, the Sisters bellow jolly Christmas carols and wish each other good cheer. It would not be half as capturing.
In the production of The Nuncracker, the costumes and the settings are very important to relay the message that the play is centered on Christmas. The gifts under the Christmas tree, the lights strung about, the carols that are performed continuously through out the play are constant indicators of the season, and reinforces it in the mind of the audience.
The setting of the play is during the Christmas season and the actions taking place in the play center around the various activities and misfortunes that can happen during the Christmas season. Christmas gifts go missing and it is later discovered that they have been donated to a poor family. From the beginning of this play until its conclusion, we are entertained with ballets, Christmas carols and actions pointing towards the Christmas spirit.
The primary conflict and its resolution
Even though there are many conflicts in the play, the main conflict that carries out in the whole setting of the play is of the missing gifts. The had disappeared during the beginning of scene one after the audience gets wind that they are not under the Christmas tree in the convent and the sisters presume that they have been stolen. The Reverend mother goes on to investigate and at a point in time, the police are called in to help and solve the mystery of the missing gifts.
This mystery is not resolved until towards the end of the play when it is discovered that the missing gifts were donated to a poor family by Sister Mary Amnesia. This truth makes the sisters guilty at how selfish they had been. To try and alleviate their guilt, these sisters give way for Sister Hubert to lead the audience in singing a song entitled, ‘It’s Better to Give than to Receive.
Sub-plots and their reflection on the main theme
The Christmas holiday was the main theme of the play. However, there exists more than one sub-plot in the play. First, even before the play begins, there is the sub-plot featuring the events surrounding Sister Mary Leo. She is meant to make a ballet presentation in the class of the original Nuncracker but can not do so due to the accident with a baton. This first dilemma reflects the uncertain aspects of the Christmas period and the need for preparedness for any eventualities that might arise during the Christmas holidays.
There is also the sub-plot of the missing cook. When the cook at the convent, Sister Julia does not show up for her performance, Father Virgil Manly Trott impersonates her and tries to show to the audience some Christmas cooking styles just as Sister Julia would have done. He does this by demonstrating various types of Christmas cooking. This sub-plot reflects on the main theme by emphasizing its type of celebration mood (Tamswitmark, np).
Then there is the mystery of the missing gifts. This plays out to the end of the story when it is discovered that the gifts believed to have been stolen had been handed over to a poor family. This brings out the need for compassion and sharing during the Christmas holidays.
It should be noted that all these event point to the fact that the play is a comedy; things go wrong in some instances, but there is laughter as well as comebacks that means in the end no one is the worse for wear after the frequent mishaps.
The Play is well articulated and well styled to ensure that the audience is captivated and their attention grasped from the beginning to the end. The use of stories, songs and drama are well harmonized to ensure that the intended message is passed to the audience. The actors also display a good use of the stage and emotions to portray their characters and pass their message (Nunsense, np).
The use of personification by the Father Virgil Manly Trott is an indication of the character of a character within that of a different character, and the audience seems to love this form of personification. The actors smoothly change scenes to ensure that there are no unnecessary breaks within the play.
The directors of the play knew what they wanted to achieve. They thus ensure that the songs are harmonized with the events occurring during the play and that the actors are relevant to the general mood of the audience. The scene design is in such a manner as to give the audience the sense of being involved in a Christmas activity.
The stage is set in such a manner as to depict Christmas and the costumes of the nuns and the father are also designed to bring the real nature of a convent. This is for the designers to make the story as real to the audience as possible. There are lighting effects to depict the main theme of Christmas and the music, which is mostly Christmas Carole, varies to the occasion and at times is used to create moods such as anxiety and tension within the audience (Indianapolis Monthly, 100).
An attribute of this play that is widely recognized is its demolition, pun intended, of the traditional ‘Fourth Wall’ (Wilmeth, 114). In the play The Nuncracker, the cast has instances of direct rapport with the audience, engaging them in conversation as if they were actually expected to respond to the rhetoric questions. I am of the opinion that the many Christmas carols in the play help break the ‘Fourth Wall’.
This is because most of these carols are very familiar to the audience and when performed by members of the cast may inspire the audience to join in. thus, it no longer remains a performer singing alone on the stage as with any other musical piece for the embellishment of the drama, but a direct communication between the performer and his/her audience.
Again, at the beginning of the play, a sign on the stage welcomes the audience to the basement theatre of the Sisters of St. Helen, with video cameras in place, giving the appearance that the audience is actually watching the filming of the play. This means that in extension, the audience is part of the play.
One element of theatre that is greatly utilized in this show is the use of costume. The basic costumes for the nuns are their habits-the ubiquitous black and white shroud, as well as several costume changes at different points in the play.
For example the ballerina costumes won by Sister and the Father in an ingenious bid to save the show after Sister Mary Joe is incapacitated with a baton, the cook’s costume donned by the Father later on in the play, and the ‘waffles’, donned by the children for the Christmas carol in the first act. Since there are so many costume changes, they had to be designed with ease of changing in mind while still being able to meld with the Christmas theme. This was superbly achieved.
Another element of theatre that has been well used is that of set design, and use of props. There are two angles to this; the first is that the action takes place in a convent basement cum recording studio, and the second is that the action takes place during the Christmas season.
The presence of video cameras and television screens help bring out the former element of the play, as well as the background setting. The former is brought out by the costumes donned by the cast, the musical selection consisting largely of carols, and the props such as the Santa cut-out used to distract the audience as to distract the audience as the sisters regroup now that they cannot present The Nutcracker.
It seems that with The Nuncracker franchise, you either hate it or love it Gail Burns falls into the category of critics who feel that the franchise is a waste of theatre space. Of the Nuncracker, this is what he has to say:
‘…is one BIG Christmas turkey. It was a turkey long before the Mac-Haydn presented it. And their festive set, inventive costumes, and top notch cast can’t do anything to change the fact that the script and the score are dreadful.’ (Burns, n.p)
Burns (n.p) acknowledges that the play is popular because seats are always filled when Nuncracker is showing; but popularity does not make a play good. In Burn’s opinion, the plot does not develop, the characters do not grow, the score is predictable and deplorable.
The only saving grace for the play is the cast who sing their well known melodies with a richness that is inspiring and the props and lighting which are very well done (he negates this statement by adding that the pomp and flare serves no real purpose). He however acknowledges the good work done by the costume designer, the musical director, and of course, the set designer.
Victoria Lee takes to the play much better than Burns. She calls the play a ‘rollicking fun show…with good natured naughtiness’ and ‘…truly warm and gentle’. (Lee, N.p). She surmises that the show is a true embodiment of the Christmas spirit, captured by the heartrending performance of the various members of the cast. Her conclusion is that the show is very much worth watching.
However, it is the audience that normally has the last laugh because, critics or not, it is the attendance of theatre goers which in the long run determines whether a show stays or goes. After twenty five years and six pieces in the franchise, uncreative plot and all, the Nuncracker is giving other shows a run for their money.
Burns, Gail. M. “Nuncrackers”. myvanwy.tripod.com, May 2005. Sourced 12-12-2010. Web.
Goggin Dan. “Nunsense Creator Dan Goggin on His 25 Years at the Convent.” Broadway.com, 2010. Sourced on 12-12-2010. Web.
Indianapolis Monthly. “Best of Indy.” Emmis Communications, Dec 2000. Web.
Lee Victoria. “Nuncrackers: the Nunsense Christmas Musical” theatrelouisville.org, 2009. Sourced 12-12-2010. Web. Nunsense. “Nunsense Show!” 2010. Sourced on 12-12-2010. Web.
Tamswitmark. “NunCrackers, The Nunsense Musical show.” Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc, 2000-2005. Sourced on 12-12-2010. Web.
Wilmeth, Don. The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. London: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.