BWW Review: CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES at New Theatre & Restaurant
It doesn't much matter whether you happen to be a Lutheran, a Catholic, another flavor of Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim. All places of worship surely have CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES like these.
And I'll bet most of them are as harmlessly eccentric and dedicated as these four culinary stars from the East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie in Minnesota. The Church Ladies will nightly (and some afternoons) hold comedy court through April 20 at New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park.
This charming five person production stars Laverne and Shirley's Cindy Williams as Karin Engleson. Alison Walla Phillips plays her daughter Signe Engleson. Signe is a college student at the U of M in the wicked Twin Cities. She is currently dating (horror of horrors) a Catholic.
Cathy Barnett plays Mavis Gilmerson, the farmer's wife who has learned multiple expertises out of necessity. The Grand Dame of this hilarious group is audience favorite Judy Simmons as Vivian Snustad.
CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES spreads warm memories and gentle smiles. These are people we all recognize from small towns and cities throughout the Midwest. The show introduces us to four delightful ladies who operate the all-purpose volunteer kitchen in their congregation's basement under the guidance of their long-time Pastor E. L. Gunderson (Jim Korinke). These characters combine for a really, really funny and most pleasant evening at the theater.
THE LADIES is set in the early 1960s, covers the years that Signe is in school at the University of Minnesota and ends with her wedding to a local boy (not the Catholic... Praise the Lord) after graduation. You have to laugh as they prepare for a record-breaking fundraiser to replace the church heating system, mourn their long-time church caretaker, hear Mavis complain about the trials of "the change," gossip about the widower pastor's second wife, recount Karin's runaway bride episode of long ago, and bicker about all the changes happening in their world.
CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES originated as a comic novel by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson before transforming into a musical play by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen. There also live a number of sequels to the original.
Director Dennis D. Hennessy has once again matched his cast members perfectly. This cast is super vocally and displays excellent comic timing. The musical score is unremarkable, but is bright and happy and adds a lot of fun. The music is well performed by all our actors as Musical Director Daniel Doss leads the ensemble. Choreography is by Jerry Jay Cranford. Sets are by Scott Herbst.
I couldn't help but recall the gentle humor of Garrison Keillor and his mythical neighbors from Lake Wobegon. It is certain that Lake Wobegon must be somewhere down the road from "East Cornucopia Lutheran." As Keillor might have said, "These ladies are certainly strong, their men must be good looking, and the children are all above average." These Ladies would all make fine "Prairie Home Companions" even though cursed with those with impossible Scandinavian names.
Table and food service at New Theatre are consistently beyond good in this exceptional 600 seat dinner theater. Dennis D. Hennessy and his business partner Richard Carrothers have created an exceptional and pleasant total package operation. For a gentle, fun evening that will offend no one and suggest why we live where we do, I recommend CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES.
CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES is a completely fun evening that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Tickets are available online or by telephone at 913.649.7469
Photos from New Theatre Restaurant and Roy Inman.