After an eight-year Off Broadway run, Dan Goggin’s irreverent Catholic convent spoof moves to cable TV with tunes and verve intact, but theatrical intimacy gets lost in the transfer. Originally dreamed up as a 1984 Greenwich Village draw and expanded to a musical comedy revue in 1985 for the Cherry Lane Theater, “Nunsense” has vitality and humor, but it’s not as daring or as funny as it was nearly a decade ago.
Above-the-title Rue McClanahan plays Mother Superior Mary Regina who, with four other Hoboken-based nuns — Sister Anne (Christine Anderson), Sister Amnesia (Semina De Laurentis), Sister Mary Leo (Christine Toy) and Sister Mary Huber (Terri White) — is putting on a benefit to raise coin to bury four dead nuns stashed away in the convent’s freezer.
It seems the convent’s chef accidentally did in 52 sisters with her vichyssoise; they had only enough money to bury 48, so this is an interment fundraiser. Each of the five takes turns entertaining, with Anderson and De Laurentis from the original N.Y. production faring best.
Goggin’s songs, ranging from patter to a tippy-tap-toe, are more cornball-sly envoys than show tunes, but Anderson’s “I Just Want to Be a Star” is effective; De Laurentis’ ventriloquist endeavor and “I’d Like to Be a Country Singer” are OK. McClanahan’s doped-up fan-and-strip act doesn’t work. Sister Mary Hubert’s “I’m Holier Than Thou” declaration has spirit, while Toy’s “Dying Swan” is mildly amusing.
The plot’s secondary. The nuns’ turns and their relationships are spirited and pointed, and they joyfully enunciate the lyrics.
TV director David Stern has the techniques down pat, but Goggin’s laugh quotient doesn’t carry through the tube as well as it does onstage. The production is upbeat and intact, and Michael Ricer’s accomplished five-piece band knows its business.
But “Nunsense” meanders on TV; compression would have been a wiser road to follow.