Just last month at the TV Land Awards, the cast of Laverne and Shirley received the Fan Favorite statuette. Remember the Milwaukee-based 20-something roomies Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney, who worked on the Shotz Brewery assembly line? The loveable pair got into their fair share of hijinks with help from their equally loveable madcap neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy and the series ran for seven years. Just like the catchy "Schlemiel Schlimazel Hasenpfeffer Incorporated" chant which opened the show, they managed to hopscotch right into our hearts.
Cindy Williams, who played Shirley, is still capturing the hearts of audiences. But this time she breaks out her habit. Williams stars as Mother Superior in the national tour of Nunset Boulevard: The Nunsense Hollywood Bowl Show. Invited to strut their stuff at the Hollywood Bowl, our beloved but zany Nunsense ladies, the Little Sisters of Hoboken, go Hollywood. But when they arrive, they discover a snafu. The venue is actually the Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama, a bowling alley with a cabaret lounge. But as the saying goes, for these show-biz sisters, the show must go on.
I recently caught up with Williams to chat about Gene Kelly, Nunset Boulevard and the unique magic of live theater.
Q: Doesn't your career have roots in singing?
Cindy Williams: We sang and danced in Laverne and Shirley. And one of my first jobs was on a show called, The Funny Side. Gene Kelly was the host and I sometimes sang with him. He liked singing with me because he said that we harmonized great together, He said neither one of us are really singers and he was right. Years later he wanted me to sing with him on a tribute show to him, An American In Pasadena. Everybody was on this show -- Frank Sinatra, Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, and Liza Minnelli. At first I said, 'Oh, no Gene I can't do that.' And then one of my friends reminded me, 'It's Gene Kelly. How can you say no to Gene Kelly?' So I bit the bullet, sang with him and we were in perfect harmony together. So in Gene's key, I sing perfectly well. The ballad that (Nunset writer/director) Danny Goggin wrote is so beautiful, I really want to sing it well. I truly love working with Danny.
Q: You play Mother Superior in Nunset Boulevard.
Cindy Willams: Who would have thunk it? My Italian Roman Catholic grandmother would be so proud. Except she might be a tad upset that it's on stage, and not in real life in a convent.
Q: Did you have much interaction with nuns growing up?
Cindy Willams: Not really. My grandmother would take me to mass. I'm Catholic. But the nuns who I've known are my children's teachers at the school they went to, Our Lady of Malibu. I know. But really, it is a school. Like my friend said, 'What is the symbol there, Mary on a surfboard?'
Q: So you wear the full regalia in the show.
Cindy Williams: It's a lot of fun because you don't have to wear makeup or do your hair. Although cleanliness is next to godliness. So all you have to be careful about is that you are absolutely pristine under that habit.
Q: If you were Mother Superior in real life, what would you be like?
Cindy Willams: Well, you have to go by the book, but you can be merciful and have some fun. Nuns have fun. And these are a pack of nuns that have fun and press the envelope a little bit, God's envelope.
Q: With Laverne and Shirley, you performed before a live audience.
Cindy Willams: I loved the interaction with the audience. When we did Laverne and Shirley, we had an audience. We always did the show like a play from beginning to end. And we would rehearse it all week, and then have a dress rehearsal with the cameras. Then the audience would come in, and we'd have a show. We began at seven. And we would run straight through with the audience. It was so much fun because it's like having a big party and they are your guests. That's the same with live theater.
Q: When did you know something was funny or worked?
Cindy Williams: During Laverne and Shirley, our litmus paper, our testing point would always be, if it made us laugh, it was going to make the audience laugh. And so during our rehearsal, if something made us laugh, it stayed in the show. It was always such a beautiful burst of mirthful energy to hear that audience laugh. With live theater, when you can take an audience and move them, you are moving yourself along with them.
Q: What do you love about doing live theater?
Cindy Williams: I recently saw the play Venus in Fur that was so brilliant. There was one point when the entire audience -- we were all holding our breath together. And as an audience or cast member, when you are all together, in the same place at the same moment, there's no loneliness. Everybody has huge, wonderful, comradely, whether it's drama or a comedy or anything in between. You are all there experiencing the moment together as a group consciousness. And there's no loneliness. That's why theater is so wonderful. The audience responds with energy back. When it works, it's an absolute even give and take. It's a harmony and a beautiful exchange of energy. It's just so much fun. Football games are kind of the same way, or any event when there is a group of people. Think of when people sing "The Star Spangled Banner" and everybody sings it together. Or when everybody stands up and cheers when someone makes a field goal, or touchdown, or hits a home run, or made a base play. Everybody is in it together. That's what I love about theater. Everybody is in it together. And that's the way the world should be.
For more information about Nunset Boulevard, visit, www.nunsense.com.