Nunsense musical in Petaling Jaya

Here are excerpts of a story of mine which appeared in the NST:

LOCAL production company Gardner & Wife Theatre will restage Dan Goggin’s award-winning musical for a limited engagement at PJ Live Arts and the Performing Arts Centre of Penang from July 13, 2016.

It was first staged in 2001 by The Actors Studio. Since its debut in 1985, on off Broadway in New York, the show has been translated into 21 languages and over 5,000 productions have been mounted worldwide.

Under the direction of Richard Gardner, he promises the show will offer audiences “a jolly good time!” “We’ve got some really good voices in the cast and some very funny actresses,” says Gardner. In this localised version, the zany Little Sisters of Balakong are kicking up their heels and lifting their voices. These sisters host a fundraiser after they discover their cook, Sister Julia, has accidentally poisoned 52 of them. To help cover the burial costs, the surviving sisters take over the Shear Madness hairdressing salon and host a lively variety show filled with a huge dose of humour and more than 25 original songs. The cast includes Elvira Arul as Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices, Nicole-Anne Thomas as a streetwise nun from Sentul named Sister Robert Anne, Teresa Goh as Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina and Junji Delfino as Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.

Shanthini Venugopal, who was in the original, will reprise her role as Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer. The singer, actor, voice-over talent, storyteller, director and teacher, started out in theatre in 1989 as a pioneer member of The Instant Cafe Theatre Company. Her earliest theatre outing was in 1983 “when Mr Bosco D’Cruz asked me to take on a role as an angel in the production, My Three Angels,” says Shanthini. Since then, she’s been in the Hollywood movie, Anna And The King, alongside Jodie Foster and Chow Yuen-Fat in 1999, and founded the theatre company, The Jumping Jelly Beans, in 2003. The latter was awarded the Cameronian Award for Best Community Arts Project in 2005 for its work with special needs children. “I was fortunate to play Reverend Mother Regina in 2001. Playing the role of Mother Superior resonates with me because it brings back fond memories of my school days. I based my character on Sister Dennis. She was my headmistress in Convent Peel Road (Kuala Lumpur) in the 1970s. She had a tough exterior but was a real softie with all the students,” says Shanthini, who has also found other layers to add to her character this time.

Elvira loves that she gets to perform with old friends on stage. “The laughs we have onstage, the way we find new bits of humour in each scene is like uncovering different subtle layers within the show with each rehearsal,” she says. Playing Hubert, the Mistress of Novices, she says she relates to her character in a roundabout way. “Because I find life is quite a bag full of gags and laughter, as with the show,” she says. “I love how snarky Hubert is and how she is both tough and spiritual too, as I would like to think I am! She also has this motherly quality about her that, I have been told, I possess as well.” Elvira discovered on the show that she was “a closet dancer”, but the hardest part “is to maintain decorum” as the Mistress of Novices. She says: “I’m such an animated person in life, so that, to me, is hard work. Also not laughing my usual cackle when something funny comes about onstage.” Elvira’s early theatre days were in amateur productions in church. Her stage debut was as Anita in West Side Story. “I’m blessed to have always been given the opportunity to portray strong female characters, who are both fragile in their humanity as they are strong in the fight to live a life worth living,” she adds. She always gets a kick out of watching a theatre show where “a performer serves the text and the story of the song.”

Theatre is a hard sell today. With specialised entertainment via film and TV for most of the 20th century, and now with the Internet, streaming video and the like, these new media are inherently putting theatre “out of business”. “Actually, the two genres that all these new media find hard to do successfully are stand-up comedy and musicals. Both do it best in a live environment. So you see, these two formats are doing very well in the real (non-digital) world!” says Gardner. If he wasn’t in theatre production today, one wonders what Gardner would be doing? “I have to be careful answering this as one of my main interests is animals, especially dogs! In fact, for the last few years, Chae (Lian, his wife) and I have puppy training classes every Sunday at The School by Jaya One,” he says. “But any connection between training dogs and directing actors is purely accidental!” And on that irreverent note, the stage is set for Nunsense, a production that is bound to keep audiences smiling.

Nunsense When: July 13 till Aug 7, 8.30pm with 3pm matinees on weekends Where: PJ Live Arts, 2A-3, Block K, Jaya One, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya Tickets: RM44-RM128 Call: 03-79600439 or 017-2289849. More details at It will also run at PenangPaC, Penang, on July 27-31. Call 04-8991722 or visit

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