About the author:
Sequels, spinoffs, franchises…those words, usually reserved for Hollywood films, are rarely mentioned in theater. When writer/director Dan Goggin created Nunsense in the 1980s, however, he soon found himself at the helm of a theatrical empire. The charming musical evolved from a cabaret act to become off-Broadway’s second longest running show and, in the process, spawned cleverly titled sequels and spinoffs including Nunsense 2: The Second Coming, Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical and Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree. To celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, Nunsense is back at its original home, the Cherry Lane Theatre, with Goggin directing yet again. Broadway.com asked the Michigan-born author to look back on his megahit’s earliest days, to reflect on what his Sisters have meant to him and to tell us what it’s like to revisit the original Nunsense after all this time.
In 1981, when nuns had modernized their habits, a friend of mine who was a Dominican Brother gave me a mannequin dressed as a traditional Dominican nun. He called her a "terrific conversation piece." Well, at some point, a photographer I knew said we should make a nun greeting card of her. That idea grew into a line of greeting cards, which evolved into a cabaret show and 25 years later, the off-Broadway musical that resulted, Nunsense, is back where it began, at the Cherry Lane Theatre. I still have to pinch myself to realize it isn't a dream.
Our original cabaret show, The Nunsense Story, opened in 1983 featuring my songs and a premise I had devised about nuns who had accidentally been poisoned by their cook. It featured three nuns, a priest, and a brother in sketches tailored to fit the show by my friend, comic Steve Hayes. We were scheduled to play at the original Duplex on Grove Street in Greenwich Village for four weekends. We ended up staying for 38 weeks. From there, it was literally audience enthusiasm that led to a producer taking an option, requiring many rewrites and changing the cast to all nuns. After a workshop at the Baldwin School on West 74th Street, we moved to the Cherry Lane in 1985 where, as they say, "the rest is history."
When I got the phone call from Cherry Lane artistic director Angelina Fiordellisi saying that she wanted to mount a 25th anniversary production of Nunsense for the theater’s Heritage Series, I couldn't believe my ears. In the quarter century since we first opened, I have written six sequels, traveled all over the world with the shows and created "Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class" out of the 17 songs Sister now has in the seven shows. The last thing I ever imagined was that we would be back home in New York.
For me, Nunsense has been the ride of a lifetime—25 years of laughter with friends. There has never been a hierarchy. Somebody is always willing to lend a helping hand to make the show better. There is never any "that's not my job" attitude. Currently I'm doing wardrobe duty, just as I did when we first went to the Cherry Lane. The sound man helped paint the set, and the lighting designer ran out for sandwiches when the group got hungry. I think that the joy we experience with each other is felt by the audience when they see a performance.
The creative people I worked with at the start of Nunsense have all gone on to great jobs in the theater. But every time I finish a new Nunsense show, we all come back together to work on it. And such is the case with our current production. We are like a group of gypsies who say, "If you've got a barn, we've got a show."
Writing has always been a “job” for me. My fun is "playing theater." I feel like the kid whose mom says, “You can't go out and play till you finish your homework.” The writing is the homework. And now it's time to play. And nothing is more exciting than playing in New York. Hearing an audience laugh for two hours is an experience that lifts all of us up every night. The thrill I experience knowing that I've had a part in making that laughter is truly a blessing for me.
One of my favorite reviews said: "If laughter can cure all ills, the Nunsense shows will make doctors obsolete." We are only here to make people laugh, to make them forget their troubles for a while and maybe feel a little better on the way out than they did on the way in.
I can hear some of those fans of serious art saying, "Just when you thought it was safe to return to the theater, Nunsense is back!" No one is more surprised than I am. And no one is more grateful. I hope everyone will come down to the Cherry Lane and have a laugh with us. I'm told it's habit-forming!