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By D. A. Blackburn
Some 25 years ago, a project that began as a simple greeting card created by Dan Goggin came to life on stage. The years that followed have been marked by tremendous success for the production, with casts frequented by performers with high-value name recognition and a string of sequels unmatched even by most Hollywood standards.
The production is Nunsense, and on the heels of its silver anniversary, Meadow Brook Theatre has created a fresh production of the work, which pays a very genuine tribute to its roots. The show, which opened Saturday to a solid crowd, puts Goggin himself at the helm as director, and reunites him with several of the original collaborators who brought Nunsense to life.
What's more, the show has been blessed with a fresh and talented cast, anchored by actress Cindy Williams as the Reverend Mother Mary Regina. Williams, whose recent credits range from the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone to guest appearances on Law and Order: SVU, is perhaps best known to audiences for her work opposite Penny Marshall in the television series Laverne & Shirley.
The result is a Nunsense with nothing to repent for. True to the core values that made the work such a smash success for Goggin, Meadow Brook's production is charming and funny, and includes more gentle jabs at the Catholic experience than you can shake a ruler at.
For those who have managed to miss Nunsense - there MAY be a few out there - it's a farcical tale about a convent of nuns who, having lost many of their sisters in a freak poisoning accident, are forced to raise money to cover burial expenses. Having raised enough cash to put all but four of their lost flock in the ground, they decide to stage a variety show in the hope that they might finish the task. The production unfolds, as does the variety show, as a series of laugh-packed musical sketches.
Barry Axtell, the production's original set designer, has returned, along with choreographer Teri Gibson and Leo Carusone, who orchestrated the show's music and serves as conductor and keyboardist. The result is a high-gloss production that is attractive and polished to a bright shine. Rounding out design duties, Reid G. Johnson has given the show an exceptional lighting scheme.
For their parts, the cast handles the music of Nunsense with poise and strong vocals. Williams may be the weakest link vocally, but her extensive stage experience is evident, as she brings a likeable and believable characterization of a mother superior to her role.
Also notable is Sister Mary Amnesia's scene, I Could've Gone to Nashville, in which Alexandra Kaprielian displays her vocal range and gives the show what may be it's most poignant moments. The scene also serves as enticement for Meadow Brook's next theatrical offering, Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree (May 28-June 8) that will feature former Miss America Lee Meriwether in the title role.
Goggin will reprise his role as director for Jamboree, and if he can duplicate the charm and charisma of this Nunsense production, it's likely to be every bit as entertaining.
Meadow Brook Theatre, on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester. Wed.-Sun., through May 18. Tickets: $22-$38. For information: 248-377-3300 www.mbtheatre.com
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