The show is corny, funny, sentimental, overwrought, touching, thoughtful, silly, playful, dopey, quaint, clever, sappy, knowing and a dozen other mixed things rolled into one.
The performers wear wireless microphones, so they move easily, especially in dance, and can be easily heard. They perform to a recorded soundtrack.
The play turns back the clock to October 1960 in clothing style, mores, manners, language and social situations.
“Women don’t write checks,” one character says. “That’s man’s work.”
An idea of President Dwight D. Eisenhower is happening – a vast highway network is being built. “Where do they think we want to go?” asks a stay-at-home fuddy-duddy Vivian Snustad. The new highway is cutting into the beloved farm of Mavis Gilmerson, who sings of her love of farming.
Characters in the show do things outside of reality, like break into production numbers using kitchen utensils. Despite the strong Lutheran threads that run through the show, there’s just one brief hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” All the songs, from a boogie woogie rouser to the novel “Vivian Snustad: Pickle Queen!” are original.
The performances are likable. The players have fun with their well-defined characters who are given fun or pithy things to say, like the teases on being Lutheran: “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re Lutheran. We don’t get crushes, we get married.”
Nothing seems to have happened in the show until the very end. The Pastor places a perspective. October 1960 – John F. Kennedy is about to be elected president of the
There is a bigger picture with the Church Basement Ladies, too. “Church Basement Ladies” is the name of the first play in a series that found popular appeal. I attended a well-attended performance on a Wednesday afternoon – another well-attended performance by a visiting theater company. The Church Basement Ladies thing is a regional, populist cultural phenomenon. As with “Late Night Catechism,” a series with roots in interest in Catholicism, the Church Basement Ladies series explores shared experiences in a rural,
The Church Basement Ladies series seems to thrive on its name alone. “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement” (3 1/2 stars out of 5) is in keeping with the others I’ve seen, though the comedy especially builds on the Pastor’s wedding day. The event turns out to be a disaster, and the reception ends up taking place in another church basement – that of a Catholic parish. All sorts of delightful things happen.
Creative: Inspiration – books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson; playwright – Greta Grosch; music and lyrics – Drew Jansen; producer/director – Curt Wollan; costume design – Katrina Benedict; scenic and lighting design – Scott R. Herbst; music director and arranger – Dennis Curley; choreography and musical staging – Wendy Short Hays.
Cast (from Internet sources; no programs were handed out Wednesday – not a good thing): Jeff March – Pastor; Kay Francis - Mrs. Lars Snustad (Vivian); Nikki Savitt – Mrs. Gilmer Gilmerson (Mavis); Carrie SaLoutos - Mrs. Elroy Engelson (Karin); Kimberly Steffen – Beverly Signe Engelson. Understudies: Tara Borman – Beverly Signe Engelson; Dorian Chalmers – Mrs. Elroy Engelson (Karin) and Mrs. Gilmer Gilmerson (Mavis); Tim Drake – Pastor; Janet Paone – Lars Snustad (Vivian).
The action takes place on Oct. 30, 1960 (Reformation Sunday), with flashbacks to spring, summer and fall 1960.
“Boogie Woogie Bulwark of a Basement,” All
“After I’m Confirmed,”
“The Ballad of Mrs. Elroy Engelson,” Pastor and Beverly with Vivian, Mavis, Karin
“Growing Up, Letting Go,” Karin,
“Born to Farm,” Mavis with Beverly, Karin, Pastor
“All Heaven Broke Loose,” Pastor with All
“An Absolutely Perfect Day,” Karin with All
“Vivian Snustad: Pickle Queen!” Vivian
“That’s Lutheran Love!” Vivian, Karin, Mavis
“All Heaven Broke Loose (Reprise),” Pastor
THE SERIES: There are five shows in the franchise, all of which opened at opened at the Plymouth Playhouse in Plymouth, Minn.: “Church Basement Ladies,” “Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping,” “Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas,” The Church Basement Ladies in “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement” and The Church Basement Ladies in “The Last (Potluck) Supper.”
THE VENUE: Newcomers continue to admire the
THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of
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