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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
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Religion is a drag in StageQ's charming, irreverent The Stops
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Gals, are you hunting for some new food ideas for your next gathering? Ginny Dooley can help you out with her recipe for "Rossi treats." Just dump a bunch of Double Stuf Oreos into a bowl and pour Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth all over them. Delicious any time, Ginny claims.

Or try Euglena Belcher's party kebabs, which, she boasts, cover all the major holidays in a single appetizer. Just skewer a hard-boiled egg (Easter), hot dog (July fourth), yam (Thanksgiving) and chunk of fruitcake (Christmas) and you're set!

You'll meet Ginny, Euglena and their friend Rose Rabinowitz Rigdale in StageQ's latest production, The Stops, directed by John-Stuart Fauquet. It's a giddy musical blend of drag show and church-lady comedy à la Church Basement Ladies, which was popular enough to warrant two runs at the Overture Center.

There are plenty of jokes about awful food -- and a bulletin board to swap casserole recipes in the lobby -- but the three "ladies," of course, are played by men. (Bruce Wheeler, Bob Moore and Scott Albert Bennett, respectively, are Ginny, Rose and Euglena.)

If something like Church Basement Ladies is G-rated humor, The Stops is more PG-13; there are loads of double entendres and an expletive or two, but nothing too scandalous. "Charming" is an oddly old-fashioned word, but on opening night, I did feel charmed by this unlikely trio. Ginny, Rose and Euglena are characters I wanted to spend time with.

They introduce themselves in the number "Three Ladies from NALOG," probably the show's catchiest tune (in part because it's reprised twice). The three are members of the North American Lady Organists' Guild and avid fans of Dale Meadows, the musical director of the Quad Cities Faith Tabernacle.

They've come together despite their differences: Ginny's a Baptist from L.A. (that's lower Atlanta) whose most important credo is "anything goes with Chablis." Euglena is a conservative Nazarene from Branson, and Rose (raised Jewish and now divorced from her Catholic ex-husband) is a Unitarian from New Jersey.

As an Andrews Sisters-like singing trio, The Stops perform inspirational Dale Meadows tunes like "Faith Lift," "A Bossa Nova for Jehovah" and "Bible Rap." Cindy Severt's choreography is spot-on: these seem like the painfully literal moves The Stops would have come up with themselves.

The musical numbers are a pastiche of styles, from a march to the quasi-Hawaiian feel of "Alleluialoha." Kenneth Kusiak accompanies the trio on an upright piano.

But there's trouble in Paradise: it turns out Dale Meadows is gay and being tossed out by the intolerant Pastor Bunch. The Stops are on their "Free Dale Meadows" tour, making a Madison appearance on their way to the Quad Cities to defend Dale.

Dale's troubles began with "the new cycle of Dalesong," tunes that began to reveal his personal and political leanings. While Act I focuses on Dale's safer, older tunes, Act II features these controversial ditties, like "Awkward Christian Soldiers," taking on those who would "protect" marriage from gays and lesbians.

As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that not all three ladies are comfortable with the new cycle of Dalesong. Can the Stops survive this rift?

I'm guessing you already know the answer to that question, but that doesn't make this show less worthy of your time. While some might find its message of love and acceptance pat or preachy (and it is, just a touch), it's also moving and just plain fun.

As the fearless musical trio, Wheeler, Moore and Bennett are highly likable and harmonize well together. Given the show's irreverent tone, I wasn't expecting strong singing and so was pleasantly surprised (Moore, the program notes, also sings in Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus).

A nod must also go to Jindy Fevert's costume designs and Rosalee Eichstedt's hair and makeup. Each character's style suits her perfectly, from boozy Ginny's platinum-blond 'do, polka-dot dress and strappy sandals to the more grounded Rose's modest rose-colored suit, dated wedge haircut and sensible shoes.

Sadly, there are plenty of real-world cases like the Dale Meadows situation. In summer 2008, the director of musical liturgy at a Catholic church in Verona was ousted for living an openly gay life with his partner. A show like The Stops probably won't change anyone's mind; that's expecting too much from a 90-minute musical comedy. For an evening of entertainment, though, the ladies of The Stops deliver amply.

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