From the book by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehike with music and lyrics by Drew Janson, CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES comes direct from frigid, blustery northern Minnesota to (at least this year) chilly southern California. Directed by George Strattan, CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES lets the audience share in the goings-on deep down in the basement of the East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie. Set from 1964 to 1968, Glendale Centre Theatre’s latest musical comedy takes us to the church kitchen where four ladies cook (and sing) their hearts out while supervised by their newlywed pastor.
Karin (Charlotte Carpenter), her daughter Signe (Amanda Walter), and her two fellow chefs Mavis (Kristen Hamilton) and Vivian (Kate Landro) bring home the holidays with their Minnesota meals direct from Norway. Lutefisk seems to dominate the menu, with a side helping of lefse, a traditional soft Norwegian flatbread. But lots seems to be going on in that sub-rosa kitchen as the cooks work on their repasts. CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES serves a slice of Midwest life along with traditional snacks. These ladies don’t mind drumming up some intrigue as they question the love life of Pastor Gunderson (Patrick Foley) and their youngest Signe – off to college and the “Big City.”
Their small-town thinking permeates the show, including their suspicion of those “Big City” folks and those not-Lutheran members of society. But they remain “the salt of the earth” as they gather together the ingredients for traditional recipes, both culinary and personal. Humor is liberally peppered throughout the show, and the audience was clearly entertained and satisfied.
Musical director Steven Applegate and choreographer Paul Reid have fun with the numbers scattered through the production, including “The Pale Food Polka” and “Closer to Heaven.” The cast seems to really enjoy portraying these women, the staple of small-town social life. Costume designer Angela Manke manages to bring the 1960’s back, and the GCT team has a ball with the set design. A kitchen rises from the ashes in the theater-in-the-round – with some devices and brands not seen since the ‘60’s. See how many you recognize. WARNING: a high score adds to your years. The entire production team deserves, as always, kudos for populating the round stage with clever props.
CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES may sound simplistic and not very urbane. It is what it is, and there is a subtle undercurrent of satire which helps to bring the show into the twenty-first century. For those raised in small towns – and for those who fondly recall days in the bitter winters of the Midwest – this show will bring back memories and rueful smiles.
CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES runs through March 9, 2019, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Glendale Centre Theatre is located at 324 North Orange Street, Glendale, CA 91203. Tickets range from $20 to $34. For information and reservations, call 818-244-8481 or go online.