The Valdosta Daily Times
You want to start an interview with Cindy Williams asking her about playing Shirley Feeney in the hit TV show “Laverne and Shirley” from 1976 to 1983. You may feel tempted singing those still strange but familiar words “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” — the lines that opened the show’s theme song each week.
But you don’t.
You think how you might feel if a stranger asked you about what you were doing 30-40 years ago, especially when you know people have been asking Cindy Williams about what she did back in the 1970s and early ‘80s repeatedly for the past few decades.
So, you don’t ask. Not at first. But you know you will.
Instead, you ask her about the reason for the call. “Nunset Boulevard.” The nationally touring show stops later this month in Valdosta as part of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts Presenter Series.
Williams stars in the show as Mother Superior. It is a role she’s played before in “Nunsense.” On the phone, you learn there are several “Nunsense” shows. The original “Nunsense” is about a group of nuns putting on a show to raise money to help fellow sisters ill from food poisoning. This is not a drama but a musical comedy. Very funny stuff. Since the first “Nunsense,” you learn playwright Dan Goggin has made a cottage industry of several “Nunsense” shows.
“Nunset Boulevard” is one of these shows. Here, the Hoboken nuns believe they have been invited to perform in the famed Hollywood Bowl. Arriving in California, Williams explains, the sisters learn they have been booked in the not-so-famous Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama, a bowling alley with a small cabaret. Mirth and music ensue. Williams played Mother Superior in “Nunsense.” She did not originate the role. She is one of several actresses to play the character in the first “Nunsense” and other “Nunsense” shows. But she is happy to play Mother Superior again in the national tour of “Nunset Boulevard,” which spoofs the old “Sunset Boulevard” of Norma Desmond, the one-time silent movie star living in the past.
Despite people thrusting the past upon her, Cindy Williams does not live in the past.
She has kept busy working in theatre and in various television and movie roles. This is her first touring show in several years. Asked if she gives the newcomers tips, Williams says, “It’s the opposite. They’re giving me tips.” Tips she will need given this tour runs through February. Tips like what to leave on the bus, what to take off the bus, remembering to get things you need at a nearby Walmart wherever the bus stops.
Do people recognize her in Walmart?
“The way I look when I get off that bus, if they did recognize me, I would be insulted,” Williams says.
But people do recognize her. Some approach her. They call her Cindy. They call her Shirley. “People are always so nice.”
She does not mind it. Despite concerns about mentioning the show, Williams knows the questions are coming. The subject is even broached with the question, do you ever get tired of answering questions about it?
“No,” she says. “It never gets old.”
Strangely, the show’s name is never mentioned in either the questions or the answers. There is one mention of the character name, Shirley Feeney. A mention of the Eddie Mekka “Laverne and Shirley” character the Big Ragu. A mention of a past Times interview with him for a Presenter Series stop of “Grease.” Mekka had left the show by the time it arrived in Valdosta. Williams mentions once performing in another production of “Grease” with Mekka about 10 years ago — an appropriate venue given “Laverne and Shirley” being a 1970s show set in the 1950s, and Williams role in “American Graffiti,” a 1970s movie set in the 1950s. She and Mecca have worked together in other shows.
Williams often sees various co-stars from “Laverne and Shirley.” She works with some of them on occasion.
She says she has never felt trapped by the show. She says she never thought of it as typecasting her in the years after the show left the air or immortalizing her as it continues into reruns in a bigger gap of years than a ’70s show about the ’50s 20 years earlier, considering it’s now 40 years later running as a 2010s rerun of a 1970s show about the 1950s.
Williams says she has never thought of the show as anything but “a blessing. It has been a blessing to me.”
Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts presents “Nunset Boulevard.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23.
Where: Mathis City Auditorium, 2300 N. Ashley St.
Reservations, more information: Call (229) 247-2787; www.turnercenter.org; or the arts center, 527 N. Patterson St.