Twenty-five years ago, Dan Goggin never imagined that a little cabaret show he and some friends put together in Greenwich Village would wind up becoming a worldwide phenomenon. The idea was simple — a song-and-dance revue starring actors dressed as nuns — but it didn’t take long to catch on. “We were booked for four weekends, and we ended up running for 38,” Goggin recalls. “It was way more than we expected, and it just grew from there!”
Grow it did. Goggin reworked the show, and in December 1985 Nunsense made the leap to off-Broadway, where it ran for a decade straight. In the years since the musical opened, it has been staged 8,000 times. In the first half of 2009 alone, there were 160 productions of Nunsense running across the globe.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Nunsense would be an enormous hit. Even as a boy in Catholic school, Goggin was aware that nuns had a way of getting people’s attention. “When they did things that were un-nunly, people would be so captivated,” he says. “We had a sister in third grade who used to come out and play baseball with us, and it would stop traffic! I was fortunate that the nuns I grew up with were terrific people and quite funny. To this day, the baseball-playing nun still writes to me, and she signs her letters, ‘Sister Hit ’Em Out of the Park Rita.’ ”
Though Nunsense has spawned no fewer than six sequels and spin-offs — including the holiday-themed Nuncrackers — Goggin has yet to exhaust the concept. November will see the premiere of Nunsense Boulevard, in which the sisters take their song-and-dance routine to Hollywood. For Goggin, the key to keeping the franchise fresh is recognizing that while the shows follow a formula, they should never be formulaic.
“For me, they’re so completely different from one another,” he says. “Besides, I would rather work on a project that people are at least going to try, rather than starting from scratch each time! There’s nothing like hearing an audience laugh and knowing that you had a part in that.”