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Tina Jo Wallace, Brian Bowman, J.R. Stuart, and Cary Wiger (front)
The Church Basement Ladies in “Rise Up, O Men”
Written by Greta Grosch
Music by Dennis Curley
Directed & Choreographed by Barbara F. Cullen
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Let’s return to the farmlands of Minnesota and visit some of the funniest Lutheran ladies that have ever graced a stage: the Church Basement Ladies. “Rise Up, O Men” is the fifth musical addition to the continuing stories inspired from a book by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, entitled Growing Up Lutheran. Written by Greta Grosch, who was the original Mavis when CBL first appeared in 2005, this iteration allows a few of the men in the lives of the church to have a bit of the spotlight.
It is 1964 and everyone is abuzz with preparation for the 4th of July Diamond Jubilee, celebrating the founding of their beloved little Minnesota town. Elroy (Brian Bowman), Carl (J. R. Stuart) and Mavis (Tina Jo Wallace), of the Lutheran church, are busy cleaning and repairing kitchen equipment in the basement, in preparation of the big to-do. Even the newly married pastor (Cary Wiger) is lending a hand. As Elroy’s wife Karin (Colette Delaney Mattingly) brings in some lunch she assures the hard-working crew that the Widow Vivian Snustad (Rita Thomas) is out of town and should not be a bother for a little while, but the crew should still be on their toes. At the same time, Karin is glum about the fact that her daughter is leaving the nest (“Karin’s Lament”) and finds herself a bit lost; even so far as losing the mother’s ring that Elroy gave her as a token of love. While cleaning Elroy finds the ring and decides to keep its discovery a secret, all while throwing hints about the whereabouts of the ring to Karin, who is afraid to admit she has lost it. When Widow Snustad makes a surprise appearance (“Disaster!”) everyone struggles to meet the Widow’s specifications. But leave it to smooth-talking salesperson Roger (J.R. Stuart) to soften Vivian’s heart, if only for a few moments (“The Sales Pitch”). As I said, only a few moments and then Mrs. Snusted is again whipping the men and ladies back into there assigned duties for the Jubilee (“Rise Up, O Man”).
The Jubilee goes into high gear and the churchgoers are demonstrating their many gifts through an amateur talent show that is highlighted by the pastor having a go at comedy with Mavis and Vivian as sidekicks as well as Elroy’s cowboy crooner (“Elroy’s Country Quest”).
I have been fortunate to see some of the other Derby Dinner Playhouse productions of the Church Ladies Basement series. Many of the actors are recreating their roles from these other productions and I enjoyed watching them add more nuances in “Rise Up” to what I had thought then were pretty solid performances. I did notice that a couple of actors have gotten stronger in their singing, namely Rita Thomas, who brought a little operatic tinge to her delivery. Ms. Mattingly’s Karin was composed, collected and steady. Mr. Wiger as the Pastor was balanced while his Arlo was every bit as I’d imagine the character to be. While I enjoyed the role of Carl I found the thick country accent that J.R. Stuart gave him hard to understand at times, while his Roger was clear as a bell. Who knew that smooth, announcer-like voice of Brian Bowman could pull off a falsetto when playing annoying character Arlene. You have to hear it to believe it.
From her physical comedy in cleaning the kitchen to her reactions while going through “the change”, the actor who gave the most was Tina Jo Wallace as Mavis Gilmerson. I also noticed that Ms. Wallace is pretty good in the lower register.
I’d say that the writing and songs are pretty on par with the previous chapters. The jokes are quick and the songs are smart and entertaining. While I found “And Now These Three” a bit sappy, the Ladies performed it tightly with fantastic harmonization. Another such moment came from the men in the aptly titled “A Happy Wife Makes for a Happy Life”.
The design team did their research, with scenery, props, and costumes, appropriate to the era, all the way down to a Charles Chips tin sitting on the counter, an old Frigidaire icebox, and John Deere baseball hats. I thought the lighting was great, but a little off cue during “Disaster!”
Barbara F. Cullen’s direction and choreography were spot on. I especially liked how she kept the dancing close and really enjoyed the pantomime vignettes.
I hope to make a return trip to descend the stairs to see the Church Basement Ladies again soon. The Church Basement Ladies in “Rise Up, O Men” is a very delightful comedy that will leave you full at the end of the evening.
The Church Basement Ladies in “Rise Up, O Men”
August 22 – September 30, 2018
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.