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Saturday, July 12, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Overcast
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THEATER

Church Basement Ladies: Sing for your lutefisk

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If you know the seven different kinds of pickle to serve at a funeral, and the difference between Andersen and Anderson is of vital importance to you, then hurry along to Overture Center and get a big green Jell-O scoop of Church Basement Ladies before it's all gobbled up. You'll be glad you did.

Written by husband-and-wife team Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke, with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen, this frothy little comedy is fairly bursting at the seams with folksy humor and Nordic know-how. The story, centered on four episodes set in the basement of a Lutheran church in Cornucopia, Minn. in 1964, is as slender as the comedy is broad. But the memorable music, wittily engaging lyrics and the sheer blustery bravado of the acting carry the evening along.

Director Curt Wollan has engendered a great sense of camaraderie in his cast. Some pieces of business outstay their welcome, but there are some wonderful laugh-out-loud scenes and several touching moments. It is the sheer joie de vivre of the quartet of Midwestern matrons, however, that really makes the evening so enjoyable.

Mrs. Snustad, played with magnificently affronted iciness by Jean Liuzzi, shuffles in from the snow with her shoes encased in plastic Wonder Bread wrappers. The sweet-natured romantic Signe (an endearing Stella Fasanello) prefers John, Paul, George and Ringo to the four gospels, while her mother Karin (Margaret Curry, in a thinly written role) is a rebel who has lost her cause. And the manically menopausal Mavis, brought to irrepressible life by the enormously energetic Karen Pappas, wickedly wields a carving knife.

Unfortunately, the lone male (William Christopher, of M*A*S*H fame, as Pastor Gunderson) is not sly enough to be a fox in this henhouse, and his ponderous presence serves only to interrupt the delicious distaff dynamic.

The show is technically proficient, with imaginative choreography by Wendy Short Hays. The orchestra and vocals were poorly mixed on opening night. While none of the singers is outstanding as a soloist, their ensemble performance is, after a shaky start, very strong.

Your heritage may not include lutefisk, but don't let that stop you from sampling this smorgasbord of tasty treats.

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