IF YOU GO
Read Nancy Stetson's review of the 2009 original "It needs some spice" Nancy Stetson, Florida Weekly, March 6, 2009
IF YOU GO
What: Song-and-dance musical comedy about four Lutheran "church ladies"
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday & selected matinées through May 29.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $41 & $45. Show only $25.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: Ticket prices include meal & show; show-only tickets available
FORT MYERS — Broadway Palm brought out the dish towels, dusted off the kitchen counters and cranked up the stove for a sequel to 2009's super-successful Lutheran laugh-fest "The Church Basement Ladies." This one carries the title "The Church Basement Ladies Sequel: A Second Helping," but you get the same ladle full of laughter. And thankfully, no lutefisk.
Based on the book "Growing Up Lutheran" by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, the show catches up with the original characters - Lutheran church women - five years later, in 1969-70. Greta Grosch wrote the script, with music and lyrics by Dennis Curley and Drew Jansen.
The show whips through a series of vignettes and hokey but forgettable songs that tie loosely together with the message "the times, they are a-changing." One cantankerous character finds a new love late in life, there's birth and death and a new pastor too. Beneath the slapstick and silliness, it nudges the characters (and the audience) to look - gently - forward.
"Church Basement Ladies" shovels out jokes and cutesy situations (someone falls into a freezer, there might be a finger in the ice cream) with - if not style - then at least a certain wholesome flair. Think of it as nice, compact sitcom - with singing. It all comes served with brownies, ice cream and a big helping of home-cooking, fellowship and loving.
I happened to attend the same night as a huge group from Peace Lutheran Church on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. Those good Christians roared at every joke as if it was their last night on earth and they were determined to go out with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. It was one of the best audiences I've ever been part of.
While the characters have to be written broadly enough for audiences to relate to them, Nikki Savitt stands out as cheerful go-getter Mavis - although you have to watch out her careless cutlery. Kay Francis gets one of the biggest laughs of the night as irascible Vivian when she entered wearing plastic breadbags over her shoes. Carrie SaLoutos (Karin), Cassandra Nuss (Beverly) and Lynx Murphy (Pastor) complete the well-oiled (and obviously chummy) ensemble.
Director Curt Wollan keeps the show moving at a lightning pace and Amy Marie McCleary's inventive choreography proves a high spot. Every instrument in the kitchen (from spatulas to collanders) becomes part of some routine - including what must be a first - a fan dance performed with Tupperware.
"Church Basement Ladies" isn't Shakespeare - no does it pretend to be. You don't need to be familiar with the characters, nor do you have to have any - any at all - experience with Lutherans to get the jokes. Go prepared to laugh at three funny, silly, loving (and nosy) old ladies (from any religion) who like to cook, jabber and care deeply about their community, their church and each other.
My grandma still saves plastic breadbags. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.