Thursday, 7 August 2008

So You Want To Be A Nun?

So what is it with all the Nazi’s? I worked for years in the West End without a Nazi in sight but in the last few years they seem to be everywhere. It’s ironic really. There were less than a handful of musicals which included them amongst their characters, and now not only have most of them been produced, but more have been created.

First we had the comedy Nazi’s of “The Producers” and from then on it appeared that London’s theatrical producers well and truly jumped on the bandwagon. “Cabaret” with it’s take on pre-war Berlin has only just recently closed in fact. That show even managed to follow me to Paris where I saw it at the Folies Bergere - albeit in a different production. Of course Nazi’s (and nuns) are much in evidence at the Palladium currently where “The Sound Of Music” has been in residence since late 2006. It is also rumoured that some of the actors on stage as Nazi’s also appear as nuns at different points of the show! The less said about that the better!

Now of course we have two new musicals featuring Nazi’s. Over at the Theatre Royal Haymarket we have Ruthie Henshall singing Michel LeGrand in “Marguerite”. This show also presents us with a quirky piece of casting. Yes, erstwhile Captain Von Trapp, Alexander Hanson - who spent a whole year standing up to the Third Reich, appears to have gone over to the other side and become a Nazi general. Now it goes without saying that he is an actor and obviously only playing a role, but what wonderfully contrasting roles they are.

I am reliably informed that, until recently, there were only four musicals with these elements in the cast. “Cabaret”, “The Producers”, “The Sound of Music” and one so obscure that even I haven’t heard of it. You can’t blame me for being a little bewildered that they (the ones I HAVE heard of) have all been in town within the same period. I seriously suspect that, given the subject matter of “Imagine This” the West End is to have a few more Nazi character’s treading it’s boards before this year is out.

I suppose that this proliferation of show’s does give us pause for thought to remember some of the greatest atrocities the modern world has ever known. We should remember, so that’s no bad thing, but I can’t help feeling that in the world today we need more uplifting show’s. Something that gives us a reason to smile. You get the idea. “The Sound of Music” delivers this in abundance of course and I feel that a large part of this is down to our chorus of nuns. You really can’t beat a comedy nun. They really aren’t comedy nuns, in this instance, but working in a theatre we do see some funny things on occasion. It was shortly after the show opened that I popped next door into the theatre only to become trapped within a group of giggling nuns clutching glasses of what I could only assume was gin. My assumption was erroneous as you may realise. The afore-mentioned sisters of theatrical indulgence had merely left the auditorium (via the front of house) after their opening number and were clutching their glass votive candle holders. I would prefer to believe it was gin but alas that’s just my warped mind!

The unintentional comedy this moment provided me did make a good case for nuns treading the boards. I am sure there are many musicals already featuring them but am at a loss to name many of them, although I do feel the time is right for the sisters to do it for themselves and shine in the footlights. I strongly suspect that, legendary flop, “Bernadette” had it’s fair share of nun’s and I believe that they feature in Maury Yeston’s “Nine” shortly to become a movie featuring Daniel Day Lewis. Mr Day Lewis’s great versatility aside he will NOT be playing a nun!

Back in the eighties the Fortune Theatre saw one of the sisterhood’s finest moments with “Nunsense”. It really was one of the oddest show’s I have ever seen. The plot was basically that the nun’s needed to raise a large sum of money at short notice so were putting on a show. Bizarrely this was because most of the order had been the fatal victims of the cook’s tainted vichyssoise. Luckily for the remaining nuns they had been out playing bingo so hadn’t shared in that particular last supper. Now luckily (by selling greetings cards) they had managed to raise enough money for the majority of the sisters to be buried. However the Reverend Mother had squandered some of the capital on a VCR, and four nuns remained unburied. In the deep freeze no less! It’s no surprise therefore that it’s a really odd show. One of the songs was even called “We’ve Got To Clean Out The Freezer” – and one (rather forgetful) nun had the wonderful name of Sister Mary Amnesia! You couldn’t make it up could you? It really was the strangest, yet hysterical, show and in the US many sequels have followed. But twenty years have passed since “Nunsense” played the West End and what the world needs now is nuns sweet nuns – or at least a new Nun musical. Needless to say, I am not without ideas…..

First off the block is “The Singing Nun”. Back in the early sixties a real live singing nun from (I believe) Belgium had a hit in the pop charts called “Dominique” and it even ended up inspiring a movie starring Debbie Reynolds.

Possibly a better bet, which could perhaps include some breath taking special effects, would be a stage version of Sally Field’s 1968-1969 sit com “The Flying Nun”. It failed to strike gold as a TV show, but if flying monkeys can keep audiences in thrall at “Wicked” then why not a flying nun. The possibilities are endless.

Then of course there is art Sister Wendy Beckett. I am not sure of how this sister turned art critic could be immortalized on the West End stage but it certainly makes for an interesting idea. Even better, why not have a show featuring three all singing, all dancing, nuns? “Once upon a time there were three little girls from the convent, one liked to strum her guitar and sing, one had a taste for the impressionists, and one thought she could fly – well I took them away from that. My name’s……….god?”

Yes I am being quite ridiculous but am not incorrect in suspecting that, following on from all the shows featuring Nazi’s, the day of the nun may be fast upon us. Yes, one of the big rumours at the moment is that “Sister Act” is heading towards the stage. So give it a year or so and we could all be makin’ whoopee with the best of them…..

p.s.Thanks to Anna Keighley for services to nun googling!

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