Republican-American - 4/19/96

-James Ruocco

'Nunsense' hits town with a fast gallop

The last time playwright/composer/director Dan Goggin collaborated with choreographer Felton Smith at Seven Angels Theater, the result was the lively and uproarious musical comedy "Nunsense II: The Second Coming." This season, the duo has returned to Waterbury to unveil the East Coast premiere of "Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree," the third - and probably not last - chapter of the long-running musical series.

They also found it fitting to move the character of daffy Sister Mary Amnesia, played once again with dynamic comic magnetism by Semina De Laurentis, from supporting status into the spotlight, as the star of the show.

It's a great idea and one that gives this whimsical new musical its snap, crackle and pop. De Laurentis, in turn, inhabits the lead role with such confidence, charm and kookiness, you'd never know that 11 years have passed since she first put on her "Nunsense" habit. She makes you believe she's playing Amnesia for the very first time.

Always willing to move the "Nunsense" story in a new direction without losing the humor, style and chutzpah that put it on the map in the first place, Goggin has decided to capitalize on the country western music phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.

He is so adept at this, you'd swear he spent years in Nashville, hanging out on Music Row, at the Grand Ole Opry, and chatting with the likes of Willy Nelson, Dolly Parton and the recently deceased Minnie Pearl. They are just three of the many country talents he spoofs in this lively, fast-paced musical.

In this installment, Sister Amnesia has left the convent - only temporarily that is - and embarked on a U.S. concert tour to promote her debut country western album, "I Could Have Gone to Nashville." Joining her on the road are Sister Robert Anne and Sister Leo from the previous "Nunsense" musicals and two new characters, Father Virgil and Sister Wilhelm.

Set against a vivid Grand Ole Opry backdrop, the 24-song musical pokes fun at just about everything country, from glitzy western wear and corny concert staging and choreography to hokey lyrics and audience sing-a-longs. Goggin also fills the musical with plenty of wonderful jokes and "Laugh-In"-style parodies about the Catholic Church. The cast, in turn, gets each gag across amusingly enough, but without telegraphing every punch line.

Musically, this production includes a variety of songs, ranging from poignant or upbeat country-western style songs to comic numbers similar in style to the previous "Nunsense" musicals. All of them are well suited to the story and the vocal talents of the characters who sing them.

Vocally, De Laurentis is a very gifted singer who captures the wit, emotion and passion behind every lyric she sings. As an actor, she manages a quirky like-ability which suits her character, particularly when she says the wrong thing or tries to get herself out of yet another sticky situation. You can't help but love her.

The rest of the cast - Scott Wakefield, Deborah Del Mastro, Leslie Brown and Debbie Lee Jones - also have great fun with the material. If anything, they make us see that laughter - huge belly laughs, that is - go a very long well in making this third chapter of the "Nunsense" series such a success.