Nuncrackers: The Musical is the 4th musical comedy in Dan Goggin's wildly popular 'Nunsense' series of musical comedies, which actually originated as a line of greeting cards. Goggin expanded the concept into a cabaret that ran for 38 weeks and eventually developed it into a full-length musical. The original off-Broadway production of 'Nunsense' opened in 1985 and ran for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest running Off-Broadway show in history.
Although musicals involving the Nunsense series have circulated in various community theatre groups and even recently at the Dow Event Center with a Broadway production, this is the first time Nuncrackers has been performed by any regional community theatre groups, which Saginaw's Pit & Balcony is ramping up to do for a series of holiday treats that will be staged December 7-8-9 and 14-15-16. Tickets are $20.00 for adults; $15.00 for youth; and $10.00 for children.
Directed by Jim Gaertner and choreographed by Spencer Wunderle, setting for 'Nuncrackers' takes place in real time in the basement of Mount Saint Helen's Convent. It is the first TV special being produced in the Cable Access Studio built by Rev. Mother with part of the prize money won earlier by Sister Mary Paul. The action revolves around the annual Christmas program put on at the convent and opens with the rousing musical number Christmas Time is Nunsense Time, where we're introduced to the cast and soon discover we are to be treated to an original ballet based on the Nutcracker, with a litany of trials, tribulations and comedy-of-errors quickly following. Indeed, the production is packed with traditional carols, some musical spoofs, and a flurry of one-liners, which make the production particularly challenging.
Director Jim Gaertner last piloted the hilarious Great American Trailer Park Musical for P&B last season and has also directed the Pit's production of Annie back in the '80s with a then 16-year old Brian D'Arcy James, whom of course has gone on to success in Broadway with Tony Award nominations and a leading role in the TV show Smash.
With more than 55 years in community, professional & educational theatre production, Jim retired from Nouvel Catholic Central High School in 2010 after 12 years of directing high-quality full-scale Broadway musicals each spring.
Nuncrackers first surfaced in 2002 and according to Gaertner is “based on how Catholic School churches were back in the 1950s, with nuns that got bad raps for being mean to students. I went to a Catholic school for six or seven years,” laughs Gaertner, “so I know what this is all about.”
Given the context of the play, Gaertner says the pivotal elements he is trying to bring out from the script are the one-liner jokes that populate the story-line. “There are a tremendous number of one-liners in this musical, plus the songs are very funny; so with comedy, it's all about timing. But we have a great cast and for auditions had more people show up than last year. We had a lot more actors to choose from; and didn't have to recruit anybody, so I'm very pleased with the way things are shaping up.”
“The nuns go back to some of the things they did in the 1950s, such as the clicker they would click at you when being bad; and the voices are great,” adds Gaertner. “Several of the songs are more like acting or talking than singing; and many of the kids that are singing have such beautiful voices I have to keep telling them they are singing certain songs too nice,” he smiles. “They'll say 'Well, I've taken voice lessons and have been trained to sing nicely', but we also have a couple melody songs that they do sing very meticulously, so that's been a bit of a challenge.”
The cast of 12 consists of Linda Rebney as Mother Regina; Mary Hubert as May Anne Tessin, with the other nuns performed by Mandee Wunderle, Anne Kukla and the only male role of Father Virgil performed by Jim Berghoff. Child actors include Christian Udis, Jack Veverka, Sophia Garcia, Grace Lutenski, Joey Garcia and Matt Taylor.
“This is an ensemble piece with no particular star, so we've been working in groups during rehearsal,” explains Jim. “Plus there are 21 songs featured, so we have a lot of rehearsal with both singing and acting. There is also a lot of audience participation, as the cast comes out to the audience several times - after all, this is a Christmas show.”
Additionally, Gaertner explains that the set will involve two revolving stages with a lot of moving parts and numerous lighting cues to highlight those one-liners, which he admits “are sometimes harder to learn lines for than a long speech, because you may have five or six people talking and have to throw a line in that doesn't immediately make sense to what's going on. But I've prepared for this directing role by doing a lot of research.”
“Ticket sales are going well,” concludes Gaertner,” and people are familiar with the series, which always help. With this production the nuns do some crazy things again and the gag scenes work particularly well. We feature a puppet in every scene, it's a hand puppet; plus we have ballets happening and a bit of everything for the holidays.”
“This will be a great production and an excellent time, so I encourage everybody to come out.”
Tickets for Pit & Balcony's production of Nuncrackers: The Musical are available by phoning 989-754-6587. Production dates are December 7-9 and 14-16. Pit & Balcony is located at 805 N. Hamilton St., Saginaw.