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Center Stage: Broadway Palm’s ‘Church Basement Ladies’ a hoot

By Staff | Jun 10, 2015

Yup, they are baaack in their shelter from the storm, 10 feet underground in the basement, below the House of God, that wild and wonderful quartet also known as the “Church Basement Ladies.”

The kitchen chorus of Lutheran loonies are once again holding their own and wowing the delighted audiences at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre till July 4. What a treat to watch, listen and laugh as this fearless foursome tries to beat the devil at a subterranean level.

In this musical tribute to the tireless dedicated gals who man basement kitchens everywhere, whether that is Catholic churches, synagogues, Protestant churches, service clubs, and community centers, any place where people gather to have coffee and comfort food as they meet, mix and mingle. They are your moms, grandmothers, aunts and others who devote time and energy making impossible tasks possible.

This is a sweet show that follows the lives of this fab four:

* Mrs. Lars Snustad (Vivian)/Jenny Hollander.

* Mrs. Gilmer (Mavis)/Shannon Connolly.

* Mrs. Elroy Engleson (Karin)/Alison Nusbaum.

* Signe Engelson (Mrs. Engleson’s daughter)/Sarah Cammarata (making an auspicious Broadway Palm debut).

* And last but not least is Pastor E.L. Gunderson/Victor Legarreta.

Now that I’ve introduced the cast of characters, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the plotline. Vivian Snustad is the matriarch who is very unsettled by all the changes happening in not only the church but the world in general especially “the demon cities, aka the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Plains” — St. Paul and Minneapolis, where if Satan designed it, you will find it in the cities. This particular ditty gave the wonderful Jenny Hollander her big moment to steal the show, which she did with wickedly witty panache.

Another scene-stealer, Shannon Connoly/Mavis, gets her due, as her hot flashes have her seeking cold in the most ridiculous of ways that are hilarious. Victor Legarreta’s man of the cloth, Pastor E.L.Gunderson, couldn’t be better, as he finds solace and humor in the subterranean sanctuary, by drinking coffee, as he marvels at these women who somehow seem to solve all the world’s problems over a cup of coffee and a few nibbles of some sort of Scandinavian bread called lefse.

The rest of the cast consists of Mavis, a kooky farm wife (with hot flashes) who’s always in danger of accidentally stabbing her friends as she casually flails a knife around while telling tales of the various members of the church community. Then there’s Karin, the one lady who has been to the demon cities and now is just a tad more refined than the others, but by no means is too citified to work in the church basement. Finally, there is Signe, Karen’s daughter, who brings in not only a sense of innocence, but a breath of youth from the outside world along with a smidge of rebellion into the down below House of God.

Sarah Cammarata could not have been better in the role of Signe. She not only has a fine voice, Cammarata has a witty sense of humor that has just the right amount of edge to keep it from being sappy. She moves like a dream and looks completely at home in the basement with this trio of ladies.

Allison Nusbaum as Karin (Signe’s mom who once lived in “the cities”) is properly regal with just the right touch of Minnesota dry humor, to make her character warm as well as real.

Director Janet Paone (who played the role of Vivian Snustad in the original production of “Church Basement Ladies”) did a brilliant job not only in casting this show but also in setting a pace for the show that keep the laughs building from beginning to final curtain.

Amy Marie McCleary’s staging and choreography is right up there with her usual standard of excellence and inventiveness. This talented choreographer is an absolute master when it comes to ingenuity that fits not only the people but the show and the time period the show is set in.

What makes this musical version of “Church Basement Ladies” work is, in addition to the show being hilariously funny, it also manages to touch the audience with a trip down memory lane with friends and relatives in days past that were innocent fun, a combination of laughter and tears.

Actually if truth be told, if you are Norwegian, Scandinavian or if you come from Minnesota, you will enjoy this show twice as much. The jokes revolving around regional cooking is hilarious in this area where lutefisk, a lye-soaked concoction and leafs bread are “de rigor” where food that is tasty is colorless, then the “Pale Food Polka” will give you a case of belly laughs.

Regional laughs build up a head of steam about the winter’s cold weather, with quips about the back of a pickup truck being known as a “Minnesota fridge,” and Minnesota being the place where empty Wonder Bread wrappers become winter weather fashion statements covering shoes and head gear to keep out the cold and damp.

I kid you not!

Bottom line for a bit of heavenly humor just right for the soon to be summer blahs, head over to the phone and dial the box office at (239) 278-4422 and make your reservation for “Church Basement Ladies.”

Remind ’em when you phone that Marsha sent you.