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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: August 20, 2018

‘Nunsense’ creator has a hand in Portland Stage run

Written by: Bob Keyes

Dan Goggin has an easy answer to why “Nunsense” has been consistently popular since it opened off-Broadway 33 years ago.

“It’s the writing,” he said. “It’s so brilliant.”

Goggin, who wrote the play, laughs at his immodest joke. He’s not serious, but he does have a point. The musical comedy, on stage through Sept. 9 at Portland Stage in a collaborative production with Maine State Music Theatre, is a brilliantly written musical, popular enough to sustain multiple sequels and spin-offs and more than 10,000 productions worldwide. In the next six months, seven versions of “Nunsense” will have 70 productions, and there’s a new TV pilot.

The original “Nunsense” ran more than 3,500 performances off-Broadway.

More likely than his own brilliant writing, Goggin said, the musical’s long-running success is because of its subject. “I think there’s always been a fascination with traditional nuns,” he said, “and I think people are grateful to come to a show that has no message other than having a good time and taking your mind off your troubles for a few hours or a few days. Our goal has always really been just to make you laugh so you go home feeling better than when you came in.”

Goggin lives in New York and is selective about the productions of “Nunsense” that he attends. This one appealed to him because someone said, “Maine in August.”

“I didn’t think Maine in August as 96 degrees,” he quipped.

It’s his first trip to Portland, and he plans to stay throughout the run of the show. He’s calling it a working vacation. Mostly, he’s supervised the production, ceding directing duties to Teri Gibson, who is also the show’s choreographer. Edward Reichert is the musical director. Goggin plans to host talk-backs with members of the audience after each show.

At its center, “Nunsense” is a talent show staged by the five surviving nuns of the Little Sisters of Hoboken nunnery. The others died from bad food prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. The survivors stage the variety show to raise money so they can bury the last of the deceased.

How many songs has he written for the musicals? “All of them,” he laughs – or about 150. By Goggin’s count, the show has featured 38 “big stars” like Phyllis Diller, Jennifer Garner, JoAnne Worley, Cindy Williams and Sally Struthers, who is on stage with Hal Linden in “Grumpy Old Men” at Ogunquit Playhouse.

A good production is all about comic timing among the cast members, Goggin said. “If you had to put them in order, I’d say comic timing, good vocal chops and good dancing,” he said.

Goggin long ago stopped analyzing why the show has been a hit and has simply enjoyed the run.

“It doesn’t stop,” he said. “Who knows why?”

It’s the writing.


Press Herald review.

‘Nunsense’

WHERE: Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: Through Sept. 9, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
TICKETS & INFO: $55 to $75; portlandstage.org or (207) 774-0465.

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