If you want to make a silly musical about nuns even sillier, there's a pretty easy way to do it. You have guys in drag play the nuns.
That's what playwright Dan Goggin did with his hit show Nunsense. The result is Nunsense A-Men, and it's the current offering from MAD Theatre.
"I think it was in 2000 that a company in Brazil came up with the idea of casting men," said Tony Gilkinson, who's directing the MAD production. "Dan Goggin found out about it and thought it was a good idea."
The original Nunsense premiered in 1985. It developed from a cabaret show and became a huge success: It's the second-longest-running off-Broadway show in history, behind only The Fantasticks.
Goggin has turned Nunsense into a franchise, turning out sequels and spinoffs. Nunsense A-Men uses almost exactly the same script as the original. But songs are in different keys (they're actually higher than in the original) and some of the jokes take on a different flavor when they're delivered by cross-dressing men.
Gilkinson offers one example of how the casting alters the humor. One of the nuns has a clock that has apostles. When one hand is on the Peter and one hand is on the John, she says, she knows it's time to get down on her knees and pray.
The plot has to do with nuns who put on a talent show to raise money. The reason they need money is that 52 members of their convent have recently died en masse of food poisoning. The surviving nuns ran out of money before they buried all the dead nuns.
There's lots of audience interaction, Gilkinson said, so no two shows are exactly the same.
In fact, the script itself has changed over the years. Goggin has continuously updated the script to incorporate ideas and lines that different companies and actors have improvised during performances.
"The original script was written on a typewriter, believe it or not," Gilkinson said. "Now there are parts that are Word documents."
Gilkinson directed MAD's recent popular and acclaimed version of Avenue Q. He has also performed in Nunsense A-Men along with Marcus Blake (who was part of the Avenue Q cast), D.J. Holt from MAD's production of Hairspray, Kevin Lara, who was in Bare for MAD, and company newcomer Rick Faurote. They're joined by a five-piece onstage band led by Mark Anthony Jenks.