|PLYMOUTH — When Troupe America created a comic musical stage play rooted in rural Lutheran culture, Minnesotans gobbled it up. When the production company dished up “a second helping,” the hungry hordes returned.
“Church Basement Ladies,” the story of four women and their madcap antics in a Lutheran church kitchen, sent audiences into paroxysms of laughter. (It’s still doing it in audiences outside Minnesota.) The original production opened in September 2005 and has been performed to more than 250,000 patrons in 1,123 performances.
Guessing the sell-out crowds might return for a sequel, the company is now offering “Church Basement Ladies 2.”
Cast member Greta Grosch, who plays Mrs. Gilmer (Mavis) Gilmerson, a farmer’s wife, wrote the script for the second play. So far the gamble is paying off. The crowds are flocking in once again, and a significant number of those climbing off the tour buses to fill the seats at Plymouth Playhouse have already seen the first play.
Troupe America’s publicist, Linda Twiss, said the plays have succeeded for several reasons. A key one is this: The production’s marketing team has put the multiplier principle to work. Church groups, community groups, travel groups, and other like-minded coalitions swelled the ranks of those who saw “Ladies 1,” and that pattern is now repeating itself for “Ladies 2.”
What will audiences see when they show up for “A Second Helping”? In the spirit of the first play, there’s a fresh supply of cleverly written and executed music, lyrics, and choreography; another goofy and just-barely-plausible storyline; and more wonderful wackiness, all rooted in the experience of small-town Minnesota church life.
But it’s not simply wall-to-wall levity. There are two sobering plot elements, the inclusion of both of which seems appropriate and inspired. There is an untimely death that shakes the close-knit fellowship. And, at the close, we get a moving and deeply touching musical sequence based on the gift of a baptismal blanket.
The rehearsal of the history embedded in the quilt squares is enough to bring the most stoic German or Norwegian to tears. There’s genius in this plot element. Any audience member who ever helped create a quilt for Lutheran World Relief will experience an instant connection.
“Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping” is a happy, wholesome marriage of very funny writing and accomplished acting, with pious truth-telling at a very deep level. Bring your appetite. This is a feast for the soul.
This article originally appeared in the Metro Lutheran newspaper.
“Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping” is now playing at the Plymouth Playhouse, I-494 and MN Hwy 55 in Plymouth, Minn. For prices and showtimes call (763) 553-1600 or visit www.plymouthplayhouse.com.