The New York Times -

-Stephen Holden

Musical Re-creates Old Broadway on Off Broadway

In the era before Broadway became enamored of the so-called "conceptual musical," the term "musical comedy" meant exactly what it said -- a show at which audiences would find laughter as well as song. But on Broadway nowadays, lavish spectacle has begun to supersede merriment, and the humor one finds is often more intellectual than farcical. But fans of oldtime musical comedy need not despair. Wacky fun, uproarious horseplay and side-splitting jokes are doing just fine Off Broadway, "Nunsense" is a madcap revue that satirizes convent life with a hysterical anything-goes sense of fun. The show's very premise is outrageous. It is supposedly a benefit revue put on by the Little Sisters of Hoboken to raise money to bury the last 4 of 52 nuns who died from botulism. The setting is a shabby high school gym where a production of "Grease" has been mounted. Among the five nuns who do song-and-dance routines, conduct an audience quiz and indulge in other shenanigans, the most endearing is Sister Mary Amnesia (Semina De Laurentis), a would-be country singer whose irresistibly goofy grin is as wide as her memory is short. Presiding over the show, Sister Mary Cardelia (Marilyn Farina), the Mother Superior, tries in vain to maintain order, but she is repeatedly undone by her own irrepressible mischievousness.

"Nunsense" is the brainchild of Dan Goggin, who wrote the book, music and lyrics and also directed. The "Nunsense" concept originated as a line of greeting cards featuring the apple-cheeked Miss Farina, a former dental assistant, in a nun's habit offering tart quips with a clerical slant. The cards caught on so quickly that Mr. Goggin decided to expand the concept into a cabaret show, then called "The Nunsense Story." Originally scheduled to run four days at the Duplex, it remained 38 weeks. Mr. Goggin then decided to expand it into a full-scale revue. The show has moved to three Manhattan theaters, including its present home at the Sheridan Square Playhouse. When the Circle Rep Theater company returns to the space in September, the show may move to a small Broadway house.

Mr. Goggin is a musical-comedy buff who came to New York from Alma, Mich., in 1963 with ambitions to be a singer but wound up on Broadway acting in the play "Luther." Later, he toured for five years as a countertenor in the satirical "baroque folk" duo the Saxons. But in the 1970's, he moved from performing to writing, creating industrial shows, touring revues and a flop Broadway musical ("Legend"). Mr. Goggin is now working on a show called "A One-Way Ticket to Broadway," in which five actors play different aspects of a single character who happens to be an aspiring Broadway performer.

For all its wackiness, "Nunsense" has the ring of personal experience. Mr. Goggin, a former seminarian, was brought up in Roman Catholic schools. And unlike the playwright Christopher Durang, whose "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You" satirized the darker side of a Catholic upbringing, Mr. Goggin had a thoroughly happy parochial school experience.

"Many of the nuns who taught me were funny people -- I only recall one who was in any way severe," he said. "Every nun in the show is based on someone I knew growing up. Of all the people who attend the show, the greatest fans are priests and nuns."