Stages -

-John Grovett

Before Sister Act, There Was Nunsense [And Now Nunsense II]

It's almost pointless to try to predetermine what makes for a smash hit theater property. From the elegance of an idea to musicalize Shaw's Pygmalion to the dubious, light-headed premise of a show like "Grease," the process defies any crystal ball we know of. Characterizations of people from chorus dancers to Christ have proved worthy grist for big box-office, and continuing in a religious vein, nuns have proven popular throughout the years on both stage and screen (and even Sally Field in a silly tv series). In other words, what's black and white and seen all over? You guessed it.

NUNSENSE (and now its sequel NUNSENSE II - The Second Coming) is a mega-hit across the U.S. and even abroad. This irreverent takeoff on all things Catholic is funny enough to be utterly inoffensive and tuneful enough to be considered pretty fair musical theater. The original show has been around in several incarnations since its unveiling at the tiny Duplex cabaret in Greenwich Village in 1985 (forty of the most uncomfortable, claustrophobic seats in all of show business, as I recall). Danny Goggin, the prime creative force behind the show as both writer and director, properly sensed the fluidity of his material and was unafraid to make changes where warranted. The result was a full-blown stage show that went on to become one of the longest-running hits in Off-Broadway history (in fact, it's in second place and still running, but behind the forever-running The Fantasticks).

If the show has a star turn, it's the role of Mother Superior, and adding to the show's credibility is a perusal of the roster of stars who've portrayed the head nun, from Phyllis Diller to Alice Ghostley, JoAnne Worley to Dodie Goodman and even the famed nightclub comic, Pudgy.

Nunsense II was spawned last January and has already donned its predecessor's money-making "habits." The show is currently on tour (this summer in Phoenix and Ft. Worth), and may or may not even bother coming to New York any time soon, as long as road business stays well in the black. The original "Nunsense" continues its New York run, with touring companies coming up in Southern Cal -- in our neck of the woods out West -- as well as Arizona and Colorado.