Church ladies back at playhouse for 'A Second Helping'

The Tribune-Democrat

September 25, 2013

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JENNERSTOWN — When people first met the church basement ladies at the Mountain Playhouse in 2011, change was in the air.

That first show was set in 1964 and introduced the very traditional Vivian, who ran the kitchen; Mavis, the sweet-natured farm wife; and Karin and her daughter Beverly, who were trying to bring new ideas into the kitchen, much to the disapproval of Vivian.

The women will be portrayed by Suzanne Ishee, Charis Leos, Ashley Puckett-Gonzales and Sara Sawyer, all of whom will reprise their 2011 roles.

Now, in "Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping," playwright Curt Wollan moves the action to the volatile years of 1969 and 1970.

The Lutheran ladies return to sing and dance their way through the musical starting Tuesday and continue through Oct. 13.

Inspired by the book "Growing up Lutheran" by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, "Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping" is written by Greta Grosch with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen and Dennis Curley.

Change is at the forefront in the lives of the four women who run the kitchen at the West Cornucopia Lutheran Church in rural Minnesota.

The original production of "Church Basement Ladies" toured nationally in 58 cities across the country and was a "smashing success" at Mountain Playhouse, said playhouse producer Teresa Stoughton Marafino.

Just like the first version that proved enjoyable, the second installment will include dancing – added by the playhouse.

"We did the same thing in 2011 because there was a lot of singing but no movement," Marafino said.

"Working with our choreographer (Jacob Toth), we have added that same element for this production."

All the women are so talented, and Marafino wanted to take advantage of their skills, so a new layer was added that was not in the original script.

"It adds so much to the production and makes it look all the more professional," Marafino said.

The musical, directed by Chan Harris, is dedicated to those stalwart, unappreciated women of the church who volunteer to work in the church kitchen for weddings, youth gatherings and potluck suppers.

"It is the Lutheran's answer to 'Nunsense,' " said Marafino.

This time around, the year is 1969 and the world is changing. As folks protest the Vietnam War and women are demanding equal pay for equal work, in their small rural Minnesota community, the ladies of the Lutheran church basement kitchen are dealing with changes of their own.

With its heartwarming humor and hilarious antics, the show takes the audience from serving the high school students at the Lutheran League Banquet to a church-sponsored Missionary Night and the rise and fall of a Viking's Super Bowl Sunday.

Harris explained in a written release that the show is a crowd-pleaser because "it is obvious immediately that these characters are the type of women that we all know and grew up around."

They are the women who know everyone in town, take care of things, and hold the community together and people can connect to.

"One of the main differences in this show compared to the first one is that it delves deeper into the personalities and lives of the women," Harris said.

"It is still funny and clever, but the story is deeper."

From the elderly matriarch of the kitchen to the young mom-to-be, these women find strength in each other as they deal with the joys and upheavals from below the "House of God."

In the first show, the audience saw the youngest member of the church ladies gets married.

Now, a few years later, Marafino said it seems only natural that she has a baby, which does happen in the show.

"The show is continuous singing and dancing," Marafino said.

"These are four of the funniest and most talented women you'll ever see together on the stage.

"I have been listening to the actors rehearse and the one word I'm hearing from all of them to describe the show is sweet," Marafino said.

The cast will be rounded out by Larry Tobias as the pastor and Terry Osman as church organist.

"The first time we did 'Church Basement Ladies' it was a huge success," Marafino said.

"Given the number of presale tickets, it looks as if this show will surpass that number."

Marafino called the musical a production suited for all ages.

"This is definitely a G-rated production and people should have no qualms about bringing children to see it," Marafino said.

If you go ...

What: "Church Basement Ladies."

Where: Mountain Playhouse, Jennerstown.

When: Oct. 1-13.

Tickets: $14 to $24.95 for preview; $17 to $35 for matinees; and $22 to $39 for evenings.

Information: 629-9201, option 1, or