The Nunsense Christmas Musical:
Takes the Stage at American Heartland Theatre
By Kellie Houx | Photos by Aaron Lindberg
One of the most requested series of comedies performed at the American Heartland Theatre is returning this Christmas season with Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical. For years, the local theater has presented the first show and the subsequent spin-offs and while they are often performed, patron surveys clearly note that they want more singing nuns. Prayers have been answered with the Christmas show which runs Nov. 2 to Dec. 23.
Here are the basics first. The Little Sisters of Hoboken are producing their first television special in the convent basement studio to be shown on the local cable access channel. The nuns are back, plus Father Virgil, and several of the students who attend Mt. Saint Helen’s. The show features some original tunes with the tongue-in-cheek irreverence of the original shows, plus a take on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet.
For her sixth time, Debra Bluford puts back on the habit to be Reverend Mother Regina. Ironically Bluford fell into the role after a fellow actress fell off the swing, one of the zany props in the original Nunsense. “I was in Akron performing in the Most Happy Fellow. The actress in the Reverend Mother role fell and cracked a couple of ribs. I watched the show and went on two days later. I was in the show for eight weeks. It was a big learning curve as I had to learn all the choreography on the fly.”
Bluford treasures the series and the ensemble cast. She has worked with Ken Remmert, the actor playing Father Virgil, and Jessalyn Kincaid, who plays Sister Robert Anne, in shows around town and at the American Heartland. She has performed in more than 15 shows at the American Heartland. “The great thing about working with actors you like and whose work is topnotch, you not only enjoy each other’s company, but the time on stage is even more delightful. I think it transfers to the audience. I love working with my friends. I respect their craft and they desire to be good. That is also glue for all of us.”
Kincaid says the familiarity of Bluford and Remmert are strengths for the show. Remmert has been working at the American Heartland since 1992. He played Father Virgil about 10 years ago. One of his favorite scenes is being forced to impersonate the cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, when she is supposed to demonstrate some Christmas cooking including instructions on making a fruitcake … the gift that lasts a lifetime. However, there seems to be an abundance of rum in the recipe leaving Father Virgil quite soused. “I remember the first run kept getting a little longer each performance. I enjoy the laughs and never waste them.” Bluford and Remmert play off of each other, even for some publicity photos. Just wait until the audience sees the Nutcracker ballet. The two decide to appear as Sugar Plum Fairies. The spoof ends with them dueling.
Kincaid is becoming an American Heartland Theatre steady as well. She has performed in many shows, including Leaving Iowa with Bluford in 2007 Are We There Yet? A Family Survival Guide with Remmert in 2009. However, Remmert and Kincaid go back to when Kincaid was a high school student at North Kansas City High School and Remmert was working as a substitute teacher. “I was a member of the top singing group, the Harmonaires, and Ken was the sub,” she says. “He’s become a good friend.” »»
Kincaid started out in a more traditional actor training, seeking dramas, but now she treasures the ability to make people laugh. “When you can craft those moments, there really is nothing like that. Comedy gets me going and when I can get people to take that joke from the palm of my hand, it is a good day. That’s really why we love to do live theater.”
Remmert says he enjoys playing at the American Heartland because there is such an effort to employ Kansas City actors. “We become a theater family because of this and that includes all of the support staff behind the curtains,” he says. “We build on that depth and warmth. There’s a trust on stage and when you trust who you are working with, there is something rich and not shallow. We can be who we need to be, including a silly priest.”
Kincaid agrees. “This is family to me,” she says. “As an actor, you are an independent contractor and with the professional theaters in town, you are always selling yourself in hopes of finding work. With the American Heartland, there’s a great relationship and folks who want to see you succeed.” She says the other joy is to visit with patrons in the lobby after the show. “People talk to us about what shows they have seen us in at the American Heartland. That is such a gift. This theater is such a huge asset to Kansas City.”
Like Bluford, Remmert is excited to take up Father Virgil’s mantle again. “Nuncrackers is a great story that should help folks unwind during the holiday season. It has heart and sweetness, especially with the children and the Nativity scene.” Remmert also serves as music and drama leader at North Cross United Methodist
Church so the holidays include the church dramas and a Christmas program there. “Theater is a selfish vocation. The family makes sacrifices because you are giving your all to the audience. I take naps; I sit and am quiet.”
Last year, Kincaid was part of the theater’s production of The Marvelous Wonderettes during the holiday season. “It can be challenging at Crown Center because this place just comes alive at the holidays. However, that’s also such a joy in watching the ice skating, looking at the trees decorated or hearing the choirs sing downstairs. I take the holidays really serious with secret Santas and stockings. It’s a real gift to be in a show over the holidays.”
The American Heartland opened April 1, 1987 under the watchful eyes of the late Jim Assad. He cherished the ambiance that included not only what is on stage, but those in the audience. The gauntlet to maintain the caliber of drama, comedies and musicals has been passed to Executive Director Lilli Zarda and Production Director Paul Hough.
The Heartland’s intimacy thrills Bluford. “The audience is so close; the actors are family. I am grateful to the Heartland. They have employed me over the years and I would say they have helped create Deb Bluford. I am thrilled to once again be part of a show at Christmas time. Generally audiences are in a giving mood and they want to receive a few moments of laughter. Just put your cares on hold.” l