The Church Basement Ladies franchise began in 2005 with the original Church Basement Ladies play, set in 1964. After serving up A Second Helping (set in 1969), the franchise took the story back to 1959 with a Christmas story and then a fourth show celebrating Reformation Sunday circa 1960. In 2013, the fifth show saw the church facing major changes in 1979 and possibly serving up The Last (Potluck) Supper.
This seemed like a natural end to a well-loved story. However, this popular musical comedy series has played to more than a million audience members and the Church Basement fans were asking for more.
So the ladies have returned one more time in a new story, this time joined by some of the men of the church. Rise Up, O Men is set again in 1964, where the story first started. The kitchen is in need of some fixing up, and the men decide to sneak in one day when they believe the matriarch of the kitchen, Vivian Snustad (Janet Paone), will be at a planning meeting for the town’s Centennial Celebration.
Elroy Engelson (Jeff March) is the local John Deere dealer and husband of Karin (Dorian Chalmers). He is joined by his friend Carl (Peter Colburn) and the Pastor (Tim Drake), their eager apprentice. The opening number, “The Working Hands of God,” is my favorite as the veterans try to tell the Pastor the best way to approach a difficult task. Of course, Mavis Gilmerson (Greta Grosch) is right there with them getting things done.
The show is loosely wrapped around the preparation for and celebration of the church’s centennial, but the main focus is on the upcoming departure of Elroy’s and Karin’s daughter Beverly who will be moving to “the Cities” shortly to start college. Greta Grosch succeeds in satisfying fans of the series by bringing back the three stalwarts of the stories – Vivian, Mavis, and Karin — while adding a fresh twist. Most people in the audience on opening night remembered when men were only in the kitchen to fix the sink, but everyone can relate to the feeling of watching time pass by no matter how it is marked for them.
Rise Up, O Men runs through Nov. 13 at Plymouth Playhouse. It will be followed by a reprise of Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas. So, if you have already met the Church Basement Ladies, come back for another visit — and if you are new to the shows, stop in and meet this irresistible cast of characters. Either way, you will have a good time.
Photo by Paul Nixdorf, courtesy Plymouth Playhouse