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Goggins’ ‘Nunsense II’: The World Is Its Cloister : Theater: Tonight at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, the sisters’ antics will look familiar to those who saw the original.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Put a nun in a habit and what can you expect? A little devotion, some genuflection and praying, a look of spiritual joy?

It doesn’t stop there for the Little Sisters of Hoboken. Mix in a few randy jokes, a spicy dance or two and a passel of wiggy tunes and you’ve got the complete nun. At least to Dan Goggin’s way of thinking.

Goggin created “Nunsense,” the modest comedy revue that won the New York Critics’ Circle award for best off-Broadway musical in 1986 and has been revived countless times ever since, including several productions in Orange County.

In 1993, Goggin reflected on his tilted little cloister and was inspired by visions of a sequel. The result was ‘Nunsense II, the Second Coming . . . " which opens tonight in an outdoor production at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton. The show, in its Orange County premiere, is presented by the Fullerton Civic Light Opera Company as the finale in its Theatre on the Green series.

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The original “Nunsense” began with a very bad meal. Sister Julia’s vichyssoise may have tasted fine, but 52 of the sisters subsequently died of botulism, leaving the remaining nuns with no way to bury them. The Reverend Mother decided to put on a song-and-dance extravaganza in a local high-school gym to raise the dough.

This time around, the buoyant nuns stage another show as a thank-you to their generous audience. Bedevilment comes in the form of a rival order’s claim to Mary Amnesia’s Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes winnings. That part was explained in the first “Nunsense.”

Anyway, as in the original, “Nunsense 2" has comic dialogue, silly tunes (the doo-wopping “What Would Elvis Do?” is typical) and a sprinkling of daffy choreography.

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Those who loved the first should love the second, said director Rob Barron. Anybody who didn’t, probably won’t.

“Oh yes, you’d have to have really enjoyed the original to enjoy this, they’re very similar,” said Barron. “If people come in thinking they’re going to see deep theater, they’ll be disappointed. This is a chortle, just nuns having fun.”

Barron is familiar with “Nunsense,” having staged the FCLO’s praised production of the original last year. For the sequel, he brought back three of that show’s five actresses: Mary-Pat Green as the Reverend Mother, Jennifer Bryce as Sister Robert Anne and Debbie Ebert as Sister Mary Hubert. Rita Baretta as Sister Mary Leo and Laura Soltis as Sister Mary Amnesia are newcomers.

“We would have loved to have (the full cast) returning, but the other two (Tracy Williams as Sister Mary Amnesia and Kathleen Gillmore as Sister Mary Leo) were busy on other projects,” said Barron.

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“Having three back has made for a smooth staging. I know their good points and their limitations. Also, they get to explore their characters a little deeper now because of the familiarity.”

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Familiarity has bred contempt for some reviewers of “Nunsense II.” A standard criticism has focused on how little Goggin has changed the basic plot, characters and songs.

This knock in the San Francisco Examiner last month was typical: “ ‘Nunsense II’ probably wouldn’t look so bland if it weren’t such a slavish copy of the original. . . . This time, it looks a bit less habit-forming.”

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The show also has received praise, however guarded. A Chicago Tribune reviewer pointed out that “ ‘Nunsense II’ is perhaps a better show, although that’s a supremely relative concept. . . . (It) delights its audience, including, on opening night, a table of real nuns who clapped and whooped as enthusiastically as anybody.”

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Aware of the similarities, Barron said he and his set designers have tried to bring in some variations, especially to the production’s look. Where “Nunsense” was set against a backdrop of a cheesy high-school staging of “Grease,” the sequel takes place on the cheesy high-school set of “The Mikado.”

“Of course, we can’t do the elaborate effects of ‘Phantom,’ but we’ve had some fun with this,” he said. “This has more color (than the original). . . . We have fun with kimonos and other things as we’ve tried to enhance the numbers.”

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* Fullerton Civic Light Opera’s outdoor production of Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense II, the Second Coming . . .” previews tonight and opens Friday at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton. Performances continue Tuesday through Sunday at 8:15 p.m. through Aug. 27. $15 for tonight’s preview; $21 for show only (Tuesdays); $30 for the 7 p.m. dinner and show Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and $31 for dinner and show Fridays and Saturdays. Opening night is $65 and includes a champagne reception. (714) 879-1732.


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