The good ladies from the East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie will be on hand to serve up a heapin’ helpin’ of musical comedy fun when ‘Church Basement Ladies’ hits the stage on July 19. As the second offering of Brainerd Community Theatre’s summer season, the beloved show runs through the 21st and picks up again for three more performances July 25-27. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
BCT Producer Patrick Spradlin included ‘CBL’ in the season because of its rich theatrical history. “The ‘CBL’ series of musicals resonate with our audiences, especially those from a Lutheran upbringing,” says Spradllin. ‘With the numerous Minnesota cultural references you don’t need to be Lutheran to enjoy this show.”
The show was written by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke, inspired by the books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, authors of the best-seller “Growing Up Lutheran.” The music and lyric were penned by Drew Jansen.
Spradlin chose to produce the first ‘Church Basement Ladies’ script in what has become, since first debuting in Plymouth, MN in 2005, a seven show canon of musical comedy fun. “I chose the first of the series to re-acquaint our audiences with the origins of the franchise,” says Spradlin. “Maybe we’ll produce them in sequence right up through the most current one, the seventh.”
At the directing helm for CBL is Amy Borash, a 32-year veteran of theatre, both in this community and elsewhere, with more than 45 shows to her credit. “I began my theatrical career at the age of 14,” she says, “participating annually in the summer theatre productions of CLC (then BCC) in Brainerd. In the 10 years I spent onstage in Brainerd, I took the stage in over 30 productions.” Borash has also directed numerous productions, the most recent being ‘Legally Blonde’ last summer at Pequot Lakes Community Theatre.
The cast is a roster of veteran local acting talent. Sharon Hartley plays Vivian, the matriarch of the kitchen who does not like change. The role of Mavis, the town’s genealogy expert, is played by Barb McColgan. Karin, the best cook in the kitchen, is portrayed by Mary Aalgaard. Nicole Rothleutner plays Signe, Karin’s college-aged daughter home from school at the U, who brings some of her big new ideas from the Cities into the kitchen. The lone male in the show, Erik Paulson, portrays Pastor Gunderson, a likeable fellow who has recently married a new young wife.
Producer Spradlin sat down with the director and some of the cast recently to get their take on the productions.
Spradlin: How has the rehearsal process gone so far?
Borash: I have always enjoyed the spirit of the ‘Church Basement Ladies’ series; the recurring theme of not just tradition, but kinship, service and family. The women (and man) of this show in particular are immensely fun to bring to life. They are so different in so many ways, and yet they succeed in providing moral and emotional support for one another, accepting their differences and embracing them. These types of characters and stories…human connection with a solid dose of laughter, are my favorite to
Hartley: It’s been great! Working with a small cast is always fun, especially when you get to work with old friends and reconnect.
McColgan: Rehearsals for CBL have been fun and challenging. We have a great cast that’s not afraid of the work. I may be tired after a full day of work when I head to rehearsal at night, but somehow it always seems to re-energize me!
Aalgaard: I walk into rehearsal every day with a spring in my step. These are great people to work with, supportive, fun, and talented.
Paulson: Rehearsals have been alot of fun. In my opinion, the cast gets along very well. All of us are having a great time.
Spradlin: What is the highlight of the show for you in particular?
Borash: I’ve enjoyed everything about this cast. They are some of the hardest working actors I have had the pleasure of directing. On top of that, they are all just FUN, wonderful people. I enjoy spending time with them, which makes this “job” feel a lot like just a fun way to get together with friends.
McColgan: My character, Mavis, is a hard working farm wife who takes any problem that may arise and goes about solving it. Mavis is dealing with the challenges that hot flashes present, a problem that just doesn’t have one simple solution. One of my favorite parts of the show is when Mavis climbs into the freezer looking for relief from her hot flashes!
Hartley: As I play Vivian, my one personal highlight is getting the song “The Cities” to do. It’s a real challenge and now that it is rolling off my tongue better it is beginning to be fun to do. For Vivian, her highlight comes when she accepts the fact that change happens and she needs to step up and rock on! Getting to sing with Nicole is sweet too and I’ve become very fond of her.
Aalgaard: My favorite song is “Get Down to Business.” I get to sing lead, about butterin’ the lefse and “redeemin’ some hungry souls.” It’s fun, jazzy, and clever lyrics that can also be a bit of a tongue-twister. And, of course, the interaction of the ladies. I just love them all! Oh, yeah, and Pastor, too.
Paulson: My favorite part of the show to perform is the “Song for Willie”. It is a heartfelt song about one of the parishioners passing away. I get choked up every time I sing it. My favorite part to act is the scene with Signe’s wedding—she’s a nervous wreck, and so are the rest of us—but ALOT of fun!
Spradlin: What would you tell people as reasons why they should attend?
Hartley: I think the show is funny even though it’s been around a few times but it’s a hoot to go back to my Lutheran roots and remember all the church basements I’ve been a part of. I think it’s something that is a bit lost in the big churches of today. There were always the stalwart ladies who kept things humming at the church. This play has something for most ages and it’s just good to laugh!
McColgan: ‘Church Basement Ladies’ is funny, heart warming and relatable. If you have grown up in the midwest, especially in Minnesota, you are likely see your grandmother, your mother, your aunt, or maybe yourself in the ladies who keep things running at the East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie. You may even find yourself laughing as you think, “My (insert appropriate relative) used to say (or do) that!!” Once the show begins, you can leave stress and deep thinking behind and drift back with a smile, and much laughter, to a simpler time in 1964.
Aalgaard: ‘Church Basement Ladies’ has all the elements of a great show; endearing characters, whimsical themes, catchy music, and a story line that we can all relate to. It’s home. It’s us. It’s your next door neighbor doing the hula and fighting about who runs the church kitchen. Come for the songs about bars and lefse, stay for the frenetic energy and folksy interaction.
Borash: I directed the original version roughly 6 years ago and the sequel around 4 years ago. This newer version of the first show is honestly very similar. For the most part the changes are to the music. Overall, though, this show packs the same punch and still hits all the funny bone moments.
Paulson: This production is THE classic Minnesota show! If you were born here, grew up in Minnesota, or lived here for any length of time, you will probably find similarities between people you know and characters in the play. Also, it is a VERY funny show. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; and you’ll have a great time!
The creative team for this production includes director/choreographer Borash, set designer Tim Leagjeld, costumer Nicole Rothleutner, and lighting and sound designer Ben Kent. George Marsolek is the technical director. Kate Davis provides vocal direction, and the production stage manager is Travis Chaput.
Tickets for ‘Church Basement Ladies’ are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.