Nunsense is a comedic musical. Five of the 19 surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken, a one-time missionary order that ran a leper colony on an island south of France, discover that their cook, Sister Julia, accidentally killed the other fifty-two residents of the convent with her tainted vichyssoise soup while they were off playing bingo with another group of nuns. Upon discovering the disaster, Mother Superior had a vision in which she was told to start a greeting card company to raise funds for the burials. The greeting cards were an enormous success and, thinking there was plenty of money, the Reverend Mother bought a VCR and camcorder for the convent, leaving her with no money left to pay for the last four burials. The remaining bodies are put in the deep freezer for the time being and they decide to stage a variety show in the Mount Saint Helen's School auditorium to raise the necessary amount.
The five nuns performing are Mother Superior Mary Regina, a former circus performer who can not resist the spotlight; her competitive but dignified rival, second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert; Sister Robert Anne, a streetwise nun from Brooklyn who drives the convent car; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who wants to be the world's first ballerina nun; and wacky, childlike Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.
The musical contains examples of:
- Chekhov's Gun: Sister Mary Amnesia's inability to remember who she really is inevitably gets resolved at the eleventh hour, and inevitably turns out to have a bearing on how the nuns can solve their money troubles.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Sister Mary Amnesia comes across as one.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sister Mary Hubert, especially when paired with the Reverend Mother.
- Funny Background Event: The ending number of Act One sees (a very stoned) Sister Regina attempting to join the rest of the cast in their song-and-dance routine.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Nunsense lives and breathes on this trope—it's incredibly risque for a show about nuns. Some examples include:
Sister Mary Amnesia: Ahem. Boy Scout Treats. First, get twelve Brownies, very hot...
- Pretty much the entire cookbook scene. Notable recipes included "Mary Magdalene Tarts" and "Boy Scout Treats."
- Sister Mary Amnesia, describing a clock with the Apostles substituting for numbers.
- Hypocritical Humor: Sister Regina is a master of this, frequently lampshaded by Sister Hubert.
- Intoxication Ensues: Sister Robert Anne finds something in the girls' locker room and brings it to the Reverend Mother. In the next scene, the Reverend Mother looks to see what it was that Sister Robert Anne was making a big deal of and finds that it is a little bottle labeled "Rush". After a two or three sniffs of it, she starts acting rather loopy, to the amusement of the audience.
- Repeated in the sequels as Regina and Hubert, and later Father Virgil, accidentally get drunk onstage in Nunsense 2: The Second Coming and Nuncrackers, respectively.
- Lethal Chef: Sister Julia, Child of God, is one, as her vichyssoise soup is responsible for the death of fifty-two sisters.
- Most of the recipes in "Cooking with the BVM" are this as well. (Understandably so, the book was written by Sister Julia!)
- No Fourth Wall: The premise of the show is that nuns are putting on a show, so they're aware of the audience and frequently invite Audience Participation.
- Not So Above It All: Reverend Mother claims to be the sane, sensible, and focused one of the group. She ends up being just as crazy as the rest.
- Nuns Are Funny: The entire premise of the Nunsense.
- Punny Name: The show is full of them. There's Sister Mary Annette (a hand puppet), Sister Mary Myopia (the archery instructor), Sister Mary Euthanasia (the convent nurse), and more.
- Shout-Out: The nuns' chef is invariably referred to as "Sister Julia, Child of God", making her name a shout-out to Julia Child.
- Sounding It Out: Played with: During the skit where three nuns try and sell their cookbook, they read it aloud for the audience's benefit as there is no fourth wall, and they know that the audience is there. However, one of the nuns, Sister Amnesia, is a little on the slow side and has to be prodded into reading her recipe out loud.
- Ventriloquism: Sister Mary Amnesia does a ventriloquist act in one scene, with a dummy called Sister Mary Annette, who says things a proper nun should not say.