April 17, 2014

Set in late-’60s, ‘Church Basement’ sequel is coming to Fallon House

Sierra Repertory Theatre offers seconds on those “Church Basement Ladies.” The sequel to last season’s popular musical comedy opens April 25 at the Fallon House Theatre.

Sit down and tuck in. It’s time for another helping of those church basement ladies.

The Lutheran ladies from small-town Minnesota return for more with the musical comedy sequel “Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping.” The original had a successful run at Sierra Repertory Theatre last April. So now they’re back to bring more of their antics and songs to the Fallon House Theatre starting next Friday.

Returning for the second helping are three of the show’s original cast members: Caitlin Randall as Vivian, Becky Saunders as Mavis and Nancy O’Bryan-Shade as Karin. New to the cast are Paige Herschell as Beverly and Ryan W. Bailey as the pastor.

The sequel, like the first production, is based on the best-selling book “Growing Up Lutheran” by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson.

The familiar faces will have new worries as they approach a whole new decade while working in their church’s basement kitchen.

Set in 1969, five years after the first installment, “Church Basement Ladies 2” has the Vietnam War, women’s liberation movement and more as its backdrop. But the show’s sweetness and goodhearted nature remain, said Herschell, who plays pregnant mom-to-be Beverly.

“It is such a sweet show. Audiences can relate to it. It’s just a loving hug. It’s not too dramatic, it’s not too silly. It’s real life for the ladies. You get to laugh with them and have a good time,” she said.

Keeping things consistent was important to first-time Sierra Rep director Michael Misko, who previously has acted with the company, most recently last year as the Big Bopper in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.” Pittsburgh-based Misko is good friends with last year’s production director, Marc Liby.

Misko said the first song, “Everyone Knows a Church Basement Lady,” sets the tone for the whole show.

“It couldn’t be more true. If you come to see this show, you will know one of the five people on stage – the four women or pastor – you either know that person or are that person,” he said. “These characters all very archetypal. They all have a good, wholesome upbringing. Their wild and crazy antics are always rooted in faith, servitude and heart.”

The staging for the sequel will be identical to the original. It will be the same Lutheran church basement because, as director Misko joked, “they haven’t switched religions.”

“They will recognize what they are walking into,” Misko said. “My wish is that (the audience) feels welcomed and at home when they come.”

But the changing times still make their way to the basement, brought in largely by newlywed and youngest church lady Beverly.

“She is the change in the play they talk about,” Herschell said. “She is the new generation that is coming up, she is progressive movement. They have to eventually go along with that. It’s cool to go back there and observe how life was in that time period.”

Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same for the church basement ladies. Gossiping and discussing the news of the day made them the Twitter and Instagram of 1969.

Sierra Rep veteran actress Saunders said playing Minnesota farmer’s wife Mavis, who often is the comic relief of the show, is a lot of fun. Still, it’s the chemistry and camaraderie among the women that holds the show together.

“Everyone in their community or family or workplace have those three to four to five people in their life they talk to every single day,” Saunders said. “That brings it close to home. I think that’s why it is appealing. The other stuff, the humor and the songs, are just gravy. It innately touches people.”

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