At the northern Colorado dinner theatre, it’s a trip to Minnesota for some Lutheran humor

Few theaters are open during COVID times, but Candlelight Dinner Playhouse has found a way to remain open by choosing plays and musicals with small casts to ensure the safety of the players and all those involved in the production. They are taking all the usual precautions as well, such as masks and distanced tables in their large theater. I felt safe going to a show there and was elated to be able to attend live theater again.

This laugh-out-loud musical comedy was just what I needed.

Originally inspired by the books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzanne Nelson and written for the stage by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke, Church Basement Ladies is a solid musical comedy with a ton of laughs. It doesn’t really matter what, if any, religion you practice, because this play isn’t really about church or religion, but about friendship and change and the ways we deal with it.

Set in the basement kitchen of a Lutheran Church in Minnesota, four women from varying generations prepare meals for different events in the 1960s.

Tracy Warren | Photo: RDG Photography

There’s Signe (Charlotte Movizzo), the youngest of the four women home on break from college; her mother Karin (Samatha Jo Staggs); Vivian (Tracy Warren), the oldest and most stubborn in the bunch; and finally, Mavis (Victoria Pace), currently going through “the change” and often the provider of the biggest laughs throughout the show.

While the show doesn’t have much of a plot, we get a heartwarming snapshot of the ’60s through the eyes of these four church-going women along with the pastor (Kent Sugg). As often happens in the kitchen, not just meals are made, but also friendships. It’s easy to see the camaraderie between the characters as they work seamlessly together in the kitchen.

When Signe has her eyes on a Catholic boy, Vivian is loudest in her disapproval of it, preferring her to be with a nice Lutheran boy instead. The two argue often about how times are changing, and Signe does her best to help Vivian ease into a new world. But Vivian is stubborn and having a hard time with all the changes that suddenly seem to be happening, not just in the church but in the world — and Signe is a constant reminder of them.

Kent Sugg | Credit: RDG Photography

All of the actors do a fine job, although the attempts to do a variety of Minnesotan accents turned out to be more distracting than humorous. The standout for me was Mavis (Pace) whose comedic timing and commitment to the role of “always sweating middle-aged woman” was on point.

The musical numbers — including my favorite, “The Pale Food Polka,” an homage to the blandness of the Norwegian food they prepare — provide a lot of laughs and move the play forward through funerals, holidays and weddings. “This is Most Certainly True” is another strong number Karin, Signe and Mavis sing about the differences between Catholics and Lutherans. In it, we learn of the “dead spread,” which is how the basement ladies refer to funeral food.

“This Is Most Certainly True” serves as a sort of motto for the women. They say it often for anything they consider to be a universal truth. Indeed, the truth we step away from this show with is that everything changes, yet it is how we deal with it that tells us who we are.