By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin
While you may not be quite ready to deck your halls, the church ladies are decking the basement on the stage of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. With devoted fans who know and love the characters from the first two musicals in the Church Basement Ladies series, this Christmas addition is a fun romp into the lives of these do-gooders.
Don’t fret if you missed the first two installments as “Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas” stands alone quite well. Enjoying the quirky personalities and interactions of the characters is the heart of the show. Catching glimpses of friends and family members (and maybe even yourself) in the portrayals is the fun.
Since the story is set in 1959, audience members are transported to a time when, even in the kitchen, ladies wore dresses and pearls. Antiques, such as kitchen chairs with pull-out step stools, are not only stage dressings, but props used in dance numbers.
Set on the day of the children’s Sunday school Christmas program, the four main characters are busy in the basement of the Lutheran church making all the necessary preparations — finding costumes, fixing up treat bags, baking refreshments and decorating. Each has a talent to offer the group and serves while discussing church politics and the difficult issue of change.
And, of course, they regularly break out into song and dance to make a point.
Stealing the show is Karen Pappas, whose antics as Mavis Gilmerson are simply hilarious. Serving as Mrs. Fix-It, she is less than delicate and more than entertaining. Her accent alone is likely to have patrons giggling, while the way she clomps around the stage in oversized goulashes is bound to cause chuckling.
Hillary Smith perfectly captures the 15-year-old spirit as she plays Beverly Engleson. Her teenage whine as she stomps her foot and insists to be treated as an adult is spot on.
Licia Watson, as the matriarch Vivian Snustad, can stop everyone in the room (including the pastor) with nothing more than an icy stare. Able to point to the previous year’s disastrous Christmas program as evidence, she is vehemently opposed to change on any level.
Katherine Proctor plays Karin Engelson, the poster child of a 1950s housewife. With perfect hair and perfect dress and perfect heels, she dances throughout the kitchen putting everyone else’s needs ahead of her own with a smile that doesn’t falter.
While patrons are privy to each character’s flaws, they are also shown the tender-hearted nature of each woman and the sacrifices she makes for the good of the congregation — and even those outside the flock.
Adding in great songs with inventive dance moves and interesting props, the show is simply a lot of fun.
Stage shows that poke fun at one religious group or another can sometimes be delightful and sometimes be off-putting. A delicate balance exists between good-natured teasing and downright mocking, causing many shows to miss the mark. “Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas” manages to carefully walk the tightrope and allow the audience to laugh with the characters instead of at them.