A 'Second Helping' of lovable Lutherans
The ladies of the Lutheran church basement -- Mavis, Vivian, Karin and Beverly -- return to Detroit Lakes this coming Saturday, March 26, for "A Second Helping," the sequel to the immensely popular theatrical show, "Church Basement Ladies."
The Historic Holmes Theatre will be presenting two performances of the show, at 3 and 7:30 p.m.
This time around, the year is 1969 and the world is on the cusp of enormous socio-economic and political changes.
"The Vietnam War is starting, the Summer of Love and all that is going on, and the ladies are dealing not only with big changes in the world at large, but in their own lives," said Curt Wollan, the show's executive producer and director, in a telephone interview.
"There are drums and guitars in church, hot pants, leisure suits, hippies -- all the things that drove people crazy but were ultimately meaningless," Wollan said.
"It's an era of big changes, and the thrust (of the show's theme) is sometimes, change is good and we need to move on -- how the church has had to change with the times, and ultimately, it was a good thing."
The show's writer, Greta Grosch, expressed a similar sentiment.
"The overall theme is change, and change is hard," she said. "The issues these women face may be different, but the way they respond to them -- so resilient in the face of change -- is the same."
Grosch, who played the role of Mavis in the original "Church Basement Ladies" production, said that she "developed a great relationship with the Lutheran ladies" -- aka Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, the creators of the best-selling book series, Growing Up Lutheran, that inspired "Church Basement Ladies" as well as its sequel, "A Second Helping."
"They approached me and asked if I would consider coming on board the creative team," Grosch said. "I was honored to tell their story."
Grosch penned not only "A Second Helping," but the holiday show, "Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas," and is hard at work right now, writing a fourth installment in the series.
That show, "A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement," is scheduled for an Aug. 11 debut at the Plymouth Playhouse in Minneapolis -- where all three of its predecessors have had their premiere runs.
As has been the case with each of the three installments in the CBL saga to date, the production undergoes quite a few re-writes and revisions even after the show's opening night has taken place.
"A show is kind of an organic thing," Grosch said. "It's always morphing and growing, and with each new cast that comes in, they bring a new point of view."
This particular cast, however, was the same one that toured with "Away in a Basement" last fall, Wollan said.
"They know the story pretty well," he said dryly.
"This cast has a really great relationship, and they're really well cast," Grosch said. "It's been fun to watch them find their own rhythm."
The cast of the show that's coming to Detroit Lakes next weekend includes Autumn O'Ryan as Mavis (Grosch's original role); Becky Jones as Karin; Lisa Bark as Karin's daughter, Beverly; Janet Bruchen as Vivian, the kitchen matriarch; and Dale Given as the pastor.
Wollan was the one who first approached Martin and Nelson about doing a theater show based on their book, Growing Up Lutheran, and it was he who originally came up with the idea of doing a second installment.
"We ran Church Basement Ladies (at the Plymouth Playhouse) from 2005 to 2008, and we were doing 12 shows a week at 102 percent occupancy -- we had to bring in extra chairs," he said. "It was a no brainer (to do a sequel). Everyone wanted to see what would happen next with these ladies."
Though he thought at first that the show wouldn't have much appeal beyond its Minnesota roots, Wollan quickly realized that its characters had an almost universal appeal.
"It's been very well received all over the country," he said. "I thought it would just be a regional thing, but it turned out these stories are about everybody -- these characters just happen to be Lutheran, just like 'The Fiddler on the Roof' happens to be Jewish."
No matter what religion each of us happens to be a part of, "we all know these people, or know about people like them," Wollan added.
And while some of the underlying themes in the "Church Basement Ladies" series might have serious and even thought-provoking undertones, they are all musical comedies, as Grosch pointed out.
"It all happens with singing and dancing and lots of jokes and comedy," she said. "It's a really fun storyline to pursue, with these women trying to figure out where they fit in the world. It's been really fun for me to be a part of it."
"It's a good time -- fun for the whole family, that's for sure," Wollan agreed. "People really seem to enjoy it.
"We're really excited about coming back up there (to Detroit Lakes)," he added. "Minnesota is where all of this takes place, so they (the audience) should really recognize a lot of their friends and family members in this story."
Tickets for Saturday's shows at the Historic Holmes Theatre are $26 for adults, $13 for students, and can be purchased at the Holmes Box Office at 806 Summit Ave., online at www.dlccc.org or by phone at 218-844-SHOW (7469).