The Muskegon Chronicle - 7/31/96

-Chas. E. Lehnert

Don't miss Goggin's madcap 'Jamboree'

Suffice it to say the applause began before a single word was spoken, when Brother Goforus (Bill Ashley) appeared on stage to “bless” the audience. From there, it just got louder, and culminated in a standing-0 when the audience leaped to its feet even before the final curtain call. The third installment in Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense” series, "Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree,” opened Tuesday night at Muskegon’s Frauenthal Center. Was the show a success? Is the Pope ... well, you get the idea.

Playwright/director Goggin has a gift for the madcap. In “Jamboree,” you’ll be treated to stupid jokes (which work anyway), clever puns, a song about a funeral parlor that features a drive-up window, another “Wizard of Oz” flashback, rhymes and libretto ala Sondheim, fake commercials a la Keillor, a priest in the cast this time, yodeling (what country revue would be complete without yodeling?), a song in praise of TV Guide, actors playing (not faking) musical instruments, two puppets, a song composed entirely of titles of Patsy Cline songs, a guest appearance by the word “Muskegon" (words with a ‘k’ are funny, don’t ’cha know), and even a moral. This is by no means a complete list!

The main piece of scenic designer Barry Axtell's set is a large barn in which the five-member orchestra is placed. There are out buildings on either side, with plenty of shuttered openings through which cast members pop now and then, in a manner reminiscent of TV's zany "Laugh-In."

The set remains static for the entire performance, with a single exception, the musical number "A Good Book" is capped of by a flyin piece. Paul D. Miller's lighting design nicely complements the set, with a special effect born in the '60s: in the first act finale, "A Tribute to St. Catherine Laboure," headliner Vicki Lawrence (Sister Amnesia) does a black-light, baton-twirling act that brought immediate applause.

Lawrence wowed the audience in her scene with one of the cast's "secret" members: the puppet Mama, whose dirty-old-lady antics inspired more than a few belly laughs. If you've seen the other "Nunsenses," you'll remember the puppet Sister Mary Annette, who introduces the scene.

Deborah Del Mastro as Sister Robert Anne, the lovable streetwise nun from Brooklyn via Jersey, returns with another trick up her sleeve, er, habit. Besides her inimitable character as the tough kid with the big heart, she produces a trumpet and takes a few strong licks in a couple numbers, most notably in "Do Unto Others," the show's rousing finale.

Lest one actor-as-musician isn’t enough, Scott Wakefield as Father Virgil Trott plays the banjo with Sisters Leo (Tinia Moulder) and Robert Anne on washboard and sandpaper block in the delightful “The Perfect Plot.” Wakefield follows it up with guitar accompaniment in his solo "The Delta Queen."

The series’ trademark fund-raising pitch took a new twist this time, as the nuns dove into the audience and conducted an auction. One playgoer ended up on stage for a Coney Island-style photo with the cast. The sisters greet, and ad lib with, audience members at several times during the show. This is a technique that could fall flat if not done right, but Goggin’s demonstrated the knack of getting it right.

Goggin introduces two new members of the troupe. Sister Mary Wilhelm, played ably by Susan Goeppinger, is the evening's emcee. She’s joined by Father Trott (Wakefield), as the first male principal in the Nunsense series.

“Jamboree” comes to Muskegon from a successful run at Minnesota’s Chanhassen Dinner Theater. You have a chance to be one of the first people to see this loony adventure, right here in West Michigan, before it begins a national tour.