Daily News - 8/01/90

-Chris Chase

For Goggin, 'Nunsense' success is habit-forming

A while back, a big Hollywood studio asked producer/director/author Dan Goggin to write a synopsis of his long-running musical comedy, "Nunsense," with the idea of turning the Off-Broadway hit into a movie. Goggin said okay, "Rut I've never written a movie synopsis before, so if it needs to be changed for form, feel free. Well, it came back, and they had first-graders in the bathroom selling birth-control pills, and I thought, 'See, that's what I was afraid was going to happen.' "

And what he couldn't allow to happen. "I would love the movie to be a hit," he says, "but I would rather have it bomb, and not be offensive, because at least that wouldn't hurt the amateur and stock rights. The last I heard from Samuel French, there were over 300 companies doing it all over the world."

So present plans are for "Nunsense," the movie, to be a low-budget independent feature produced by a Goggin friend. When Goggin told his agents the way he wanted to go, they didn't even argue. "They said, 'You've broken every rule so far, there's no reason to stop now.' "

It's true. I mean, the guy came to New York from a small town in Michigan more than 25 years ago, got into "Luther," with Albert Finney, later worked on industrial shows. He also toured colleges as part of a folk-singing act, wrote scores for musicals on and Off-Broadway, and never had to take a job as a waiter. But he still can't believe the miracle of "Nunsense," which he thought would be "this cute little show we would do for a little bit, just for fun."

"Nunsense," if you've been up a tree for the last five years (it's no good to say if you've been out of town, because the darn thing is playing in every town you can mention), is, of course, the rollicking story of Ave nuns with a problem. Their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 Sisters -- they were found face down in the vichyssoise -- and some of the deceased are still in the freezer, waiting to be buried. So the survivors -- mercifully, they were playing bingo during the soup course -- decide to pay for the interments by putting on a show, and the audience gets to watch the sisters get down.

Based on nuns Goggin knew and loved as a kid, "Nunsense" has drawn rives ("Wacky fun, uproarious horseplay and side-splitting jokes," said The New York Times) and the occasional pan, but always, audiences have loved it. When one critic complained about "this brain-dead musical that is sweeping the country like a plague," the management was so amused -- by then, the returns were in, and they could affordto be amused -- that the box office man in the New York company used to answer the phone saying, " 'Nunsense,' the braindead musical, how may I help you?" Goggin, 47, says he's glad he didn't hit it so big when he was younger. "If this had happened to me when I was 25, l would have thought I was really hot. When you get to this age, you realize you're not hot at all, you just got lucky." He also says the success of "Nunsense" hasn't altered his life. "I still have the same friends, I'm still uncomfortable in real fancy situations." He thinks a moment, then admits there has been one nice change. "It used to be -- even if I had an industrial show that was a success -- all the time I was doing one job, l was thinking I've got to get another one right after this. I could never relax and enjoy the, moment. Now I can."