It is called Church Basement Ladies, and it was part of a concert series, although it didn't sound like a musical to me.
The cast consisted of four women and a man; and the setting was in the basement of a small Lutheran church, like the kind my Scandinavian wife drags me to on occasion.
Lutefisk and lefse reigned supreme in the book, Growing Up Lutheran written by Janet Letnes Martin of Hillsboro, ND and Suzann Nelson, (both married names), who grew up near Evansville, MN and met as freshman at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, a few years ago.
Both had experienced the same thing in their homes, and they wrote about it. It inspired husband and wife and co-playwrights, Jim Stowell and Jessie Zuelke, to convert it into a musical with the help of Drew Jansen, composer. The production company – Troupe America, Inc. – picked it up and it has been a hit in the Twin Cities ever since.
While the five performers (Sara Bartlett, Janette Bruce, Gail Bruce, Stella Fasanello and Greg Eiden, (who plays the pastor) don't have Norwegian-sounding names, they filled the roles of Snustad, Gilmerson, Engelson and Pastor Gunderson to perfection.
(Don't let that Italian name Fasanello fool you. That's her married name; she's a real Scandivoovian who graduated from the University of Concordia in St. Paul.)
And Director Curt Wollan had them doing stuff that had us rolling in the aisles. For instance, the antics of Mavis (Mrs. Gilmer Gimerson) had "hot flashes" which she "cured" by sticking her behind in the church basement refrigerator. And Pastor E. L. Gunderson (which was Phyllis's last name before she married this Polack and became a Catholic) was superb as he attempted to help Mavis out of the freezer.
Mavis (Janette Bruce) was the hit of the show with her comic routine – although they all got laughs. Especially when Vivian (Sara Bartlett) said – after the Lutheran Church split up to become the ELCA, the ALC, etc. – we could just as well become the AFL-CIO – American Federation of Lutherans Coerced Into One!
(You had to be there to enjoy it!)
While the full house included Mennonites, Episcopalians, Methodists and other religions, the script picked on us Catholics a lot. But it was all in fun because we had all experienced the same thing at church suppers, funerals, etc. I don't think anyone was offended; I know I wasn't.
Actually, it was the Protestants getting back at the Catholics for the success of the his show Nunsense. Sara Bartlett played the part of the Mother Superior in that one, too.
It's good to see members of various denominations enjoying themselves at the other's expense instead of fighting all the time as some people do. We've all enjoyed krumkake, fattigman, remmegret and other Norwegian delicacies, so why can't we enjoy each other, too? Besides that, I like lutefisk with all that melted butter!
The troupe is on a tour now and played Mitchell and Yankton in South Dakota and Columbus and Norfolk, NE. As a matter of fact, it was so good in Norfolk that a spectator from there drove all the way to Yankton to see it again. How's that for success?
I don't usually do reviews of things that I see or read – but this was too good to pass up!
� 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz