'Nunsense' kicks off national tour at Petrucci's Dinner Theatre

A popular line of humorous greeting cards with nun themes inspired the hilarious musical spoof, "Nunsense," winner of four 1986 Outer Critics Circle Awards.

The lighthearted piece taking good-natured pot shots at a group of Catholic nuns is the creation of playwright/composer Dan Goggin, a former seminarian who decided the wacky world of entertainment was his true calling.


Goggin, a professional classical singer, wrote the book, music and lyrics. A national tour of the show will be launched at Petrucci's Dinner Theatre in Laurel Tuesday. The show runs at the theater through Sept. 8. The New York production, now playing at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater on 42nd Street, is in its seventh year. Regional productions have played to audiences throughout the country and in Toronto. Plans for a movie version are in the works.

The idea for "Nunsense" developed from a line of greeting cards Goggin and a friend, Marilyn Farina, originated. The cards showing Farina as a mother superior in a series of comic poses with amusing comments were geared for holidays and other occasions. The series caught on and eventually evolved into the musical revue.


"I have directed over 17 companies of 'Nunsense,' " Goggin said during a rehearsal break at Petrucci's. "I have worked with 300 women [many of them stars] and, for the most part, except for one or two stinkers, they were all great. When casting I try to find people with uplifting personalities who fit into this kind of atmosphere. We want no divas."

Among those who have contributed their considerable talents to the show are: Dodie Goodman, Phyllis Diller, Peggy Cass, Edie Adams and Kay Ballard.

The facetious story line centers on members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken ("Little Hobos") who are confronted with the tragedy of 52 nuns killed by fatal doses of botulism found in a recipe prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. Forty-eight are buried. The order cannot afford to bury the last four so their remains are put into the deep freeze.

A variety benefit to raise money for the burial fund is the main event of the show. The nuns sing, tell jokes, tap dance and do general shtick.

Raised in Elma, Michigan, Goggin claims his nuns are based on his boyhood memories of the Order of Marywood Dominican Sisters. "My nuns at the convent where I studied were a happy lot," he said. "Really human with a sense of humor. The character I call Sister Amnesia, she has lost her memory, was suggested by a nun who taught me in the third grade. She was 22 years old and unprepared for the third grade. We drove her nuts and she had to go to a home.

"Then they sent us the most terroristic nun I have ever met," he added, laughing.

According to Goggin, the nuns and priests who visit his show are so pleased they send other people to see it. "The nuns are our biggest fans," he said. "Once in a while you get a real fanatic but they are usually wonderful about it. I had a nun say to me once 'What do they mean nuns don't tap dance? What the hell do they think we do in our Christmas pageants?'

"You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy the play," he pointed out. "The humor in the situations has nothing to do with religion."


For a while Goggin was a seminary student with the Franciscan Brothers in Brooklyn, New York, but the lure of theater was stronger than ecclesiastical matters. He performed in the Broadway drama "Luther," by John Osborne, and was a member of the folk group The Saxons. He wrote the score for the Off-Broadway musical "Hark" and penned the Broadway production "Legend," starring Elizabeth Ashley and F. Murray Abraham.

A new musical, "A One-Way Ticket to Broadway," patterned on the play "Stage Door" and to be produced Off-Broadway, is in the fund-raising stage.

A graduate of the University of Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music, the playwright has done little performing in the past 10 years. "I used to be a basket case going on stage," he said. "Now I get it all out of my system when I am writing new material -- singing the songs to myself."

A bachelor by choice, Goggin enjoys concentrating all his efforts on show business. "I hope this show goes on forever," he said cheerfully. "I'm still a kid having a good time. There's no fun in growing up."

Petrucci's Dinner Theatre buffet begins at 6:30 p.m., curtain at 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Thursdays; buffet at 7 p.m., curtain 8:30 p.m. Fridays. Admission is $29.95 per person. Matinee buffet begins at 11:30 a.m., curtain 1 p.m. on selected Wednesdays and every other Sunday. Matinee admission is $24.95 per person.

For reservations and information, call the box office at 792-7499.