By Bob Evans
Up to old tricks again, “Church Basement Ladies: Second Helping” opened at The Chestnut Fine Arts Theatre in Olathe, Kansas to a full house of enthusiastic viewers as the trio of cooks, the pastor, and a returning daughter let the church’s life history entertain the audience.
As Brad Zimmerman, executive producer of The Chestnut explained, the first installment, which was produced at The Chestnut four years ago garnered so much attention and enthusiasm that the second chapter demanded equal time; hence, “Second Helping.” The kitchen divas return in all their glory to keep the church running smoothly and the hot food forthcoming as the years roll on.
A super cast of Kansas City favorites bring the story to life as Val Fagan, Lori Blalock, Judy Simmons, Christina Brewer and Kipp Simmons create the heart-warming characters of the show. With that cast of favorites, Zimmerman’s direction just helped tighten the show to a fast-paced, two hour production with a 15-minute intermission.
The story takes place in 1969 or thereabouts as the U.S. deals with the Vietnam War and changing times. Remember Hippies? Mod-look? Mini-skirts? Bongs? Oh, yes. They are all innocently contained in this sequel. While the outside world faces those changes, the ladies find down-home and inner strength as they support each other through their life changes. As time rolls on, one has experienced Menopause; another, the marriage of her daughter; another loneliness of widowhood. The pastor’s new wife (of seven years) still remains his “new” wife. The big change is that the married daughter moves back home from the city with a new life on the way. She’s decided she wants a small-town, farm-life for her family and wishes to be close to her roots.
Expect song and a little dance from the ladies and gentleman with music and lyrics by Dennis Curly and Drew Jansen. The book is by Greta Grosch and runs through August 27. None of the songs are familiar and specific to the show. They are just fun numbers that keep the show lively and moving along. The humor is family-oriented and reminiscent of the forgotten TV shows of the late 1950s and 60s. Remember Walter Brennan in The Real McCoys? That’s the type of homespun comedy in “Church Basement Ladies: Second Helping.” It’s just fun, laughs, and charm.
Audiences will laugh a lot. Opening night, the crowd laughed throughout the show and at intermission, discussion about favorite parts and lines could be heard as the audience meandered toward the concession stand. That’s always a good sign when opening night generates a happy and inspired crowd.
Another appeal of “Church Basement Ladies” lies in the atmosphere of The Chestnut Fine Arts. One feels more like being welcomed into Zimmerman’s home for an evening of fun. That makes the stage just an extension of his hospitality. Patrons feel an immediate connection to the cast, the show, and the venue. The Chestnut provides an atmosphere unlike other theaters in the KC Metro area. Those who have not experienced this are in for a surprise when they finally attend a Chestnut production.
Tags: Chestnut Fine Arts Center, “Church Basement Ladies: A Second Helping”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Olathe