The Racine Theatre Guild brings a classic back to its stage this January. “Nunsense” is an uproarious musical comedy featuring some of our local area’s most vibrant talent.

(Left to right) Juliana Garcia-Malacara, Robbyn Wilks, Betty Petersen, Ellie Hammond and Kara Ernst-Schalk strike their holy poses in “Nunsense.” – Photo Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

Last performed at RTG in 1993, this year’s show is directed by Katie Kowbel and choreographed by Stephanie Staszak, with a cast featuring Betty Petersen as Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina, Robbyn Wilks as Sister Mary Hubert, Kara Ernst-Schalk as Sister Robert Anne, Ellie Hammond as Sister Mary Amnesia, and Juliana Garcia-Malacara as Sister Mary Leo.

A Repeat Performer

Incidentally, one cast member from the original RTG production will be gracing the stage this time as well. Kara Ernst-Schalk, who plays Sister Robert Anne, began her “Nunsense” affiliation by playing Sister Mary Leo for the Racine Theatre Guild in 1993 while she was still in high school. It was her first big step toward performing in musical theatre.

After high school, and her inaugural “Nunsense” performances, Ernst-Schalk headed to New York University’s Theatre program. At this point, she had already logged 15 years of professional dance training.

She worked professionally as a performer (singing, dancing and acting) throughout her time at the university and continued doing so afterward in various locations including theme parks, cruise ships, Colonial Williamsburg and more. After coming back home to Racine, Ernst-Schalk owned a studio for two years and taught at Carthage as well, all while choreographing one or two productions a year for RTG.

This year’s will be the fourth production of “Nunsense” for Ernst-Schalk. After her 1993 debut, RTG did a follow-up in 1994 with “Nunsense II,” where she reprised the role. For her professional debut with the Rocky Mountain Repertory Company, she donned the habit of Sister Mary Leo once again, catapulting her musical theatre career to the next level.

Kara Ernst-Schalk hams it up for her new role as Sister Robert Anne in “Nunsense.” – Photo Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

Many patrons of the Racine Theatre Guild know Ernst-Schalk as a chief choreographer from as far back as 2002. She also has had a significant influence within the educational side of RTG’s programming as well as the children’s theatre’s Packy Plays. This year, Ernst-Schalk will also be offering her directorial talents for RTG’s MainStage production, “Akeelah and the Bee” in April.

Passing On Her “Dancing Shoes”

This year, Juliana Garcia-Malacara is playing Sister Mary Leo. The two performers first met in 2011 when Juju, as her friends call her, auditioned and secured a role in “Willy Wonka” where Kara was the choreographer. The pair would have many other interactions through RTG including performing together in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in 2017.

The senior Sister Mary Leo was eager to not only perform a different character but also to see such a talented performer bring new energy to the dance-heavy role of Mary Leo. Ernst-Schalk noted Garcia-Malacara’s “sense of buoyancy and very different voice style,” which would make for a completely new interpretation of the role. “It’s fun to see somebody else come in and make it their own,” she said. “Juju is such a great performer. I’m ready to hand over my dancing shoes.”

This Year’s Production of “Nunsense”

With a span of 29 years between productions, this year’s performance will most definitely stand on its own merit. Some patrons will come with memories of the past performances, but this promises to be completely new, with no direct comparisons to stand in the way of the current cast.

The show opens this Friday, Jan. 7, at 7:30 p.m. and will run through Sunday, Jan. 23 at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave., Racine, and is sponsored by Gary and Mary Sue Langendorf.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15 and Jan. 22 will also have a 2 p.m. show. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors (62+), and $15 for students (21 and under). Value night performances on Sunday, Jan. 16, and Thursday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. have tickets available for a discounted rate. Further savings are offered to groups of 12 or more.

For the safety of everyone, masks will be required to attend all performances.

Tickets can be purchased from the Racine Theatre Guild by calling 262-633-4218, visiting www.racinetheatre.org, or stopping by the box office weekdays from 12 to 6 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to each performance for tickets.

About “Nunsense”

When an accidental case of botulism from Sister Julia Child of God’s cooking wipes out most of the order of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, the remaining nuns must raise funds to bury their dearly departed sisters and keep their convent afloat. Ballet-loving Sister Leo, street-wise Sister Robert Anne, befuddled Sister Mary Amnesia, the Mother Superior Sister Regina, and mistress of the novices Sister Mary Hubert attempt to throw together a haphazard variety show.

Complete with tongue-in-cheek numbers and funny talent acts, songs include “Tackle that Temptation,” “Holier than Thou,” and “Nunsense Is Habit-Forming.” Last performed on the RTG stage in 1993, “Nunsense” was written by David Goggin and has become an international sensation having been translated into 21 different languages.

– From the Racine Theatre Guild