Church Basement Ladies head out on their final adventure

Call the code on this dessert dish. Tara Borman, Dorian Chalmers, Janet Paone, and Greta Grosch.
Call the code on this dessert dish. Tara Borman, Dorian Chalmers, Janet Paone, and Greta Grosch.
Photo by John Connelly
All good things must end, even for something as popular and lucrative as the Church Basement Ladies.

The musical Lutherans, who have used the Plymouth Playhouse as their home base for the last decade, aren't actually going anywhere. The shows continue to play in productions around the country, but the story that started in the first volume definitely comes to an end in the recently opened fifth, subtitled The Last (Potluck) Supper.

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Songwriter Drew Jansen certainly knows the power of the series. He had a long association with producer Troupe America, first as an audition accompanists, and then as a substitute keyboard player in productions before breaking through with How to Talk Like a Minnesotan: The Musical.

Producer Curt Wollan looked to the books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson for the next subject, and the rest is regional musical theater history.

"It has absolutely changed my life. It has given me the drive to keep at this. We've had to always be thinking what's next and what's next. It keeps those muscles exercised," Jansen says. 

It has also offered him the kind of financial stability freelance artists rarely see, even allowing for extended vacations with loved ones. "My partner and I are celebrating 25 years together. Once the show is up and running, I have the luxury of taking the month off and not worrying that the bills aren't being paid," he says.

The composer and songwriter has had a hand in all five of the shows, and has been able to guide productions around the country. Still, he knows that the original productions are key when creating each show.

The steady cast at Plymouth Playhouse -- almost all are the originals in their roles -- gives Jansen plenty of flexibility as a composer.

"The cast has stayed pretty much the same since we opened. I've found I start writing more and more for the singer on this stage each night. Each of these people has their own skill set. It is easier for me as a composer when I have more information as to what any song needs to be depending on who is singing it," Jansen says.

Plot wise, the latest version takes the story up to 1979, which -- apart from giving Jansen a chance to write a disco-tinged number -- is the centennial of the church at the center of the story. It's more than a celebration, however. Changing demographics and shrinking membership have forced the church elders' hand, and they have chosen to fold.

All of this gives the characters a chance to reflect, and bring in flashbacks that cover the entire history of the church. That gives the actors an opportunity to play other characters or younger versions of their main roles, but the focus still remains on the actions, thoughts, hopes, fears, and lives of the core group.

All of this has helped to keep the series successful, Jansen says.

"People are seeing themselves. Women 50 and 60 on up are an underserved theater-going audience. They love seeing themselves on stage," he adds.


Church Basement Ladies: The Last (Potluck) Supper
Through Feb. 23
Plymouth Playhouse
2705 Annapolis Lane, Plymouth
For tickets and more information, call 763.553.1600 or visit online.

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Plymouth Playhouse

2705 Annapolis Lanene
Plymouth, MN 55441


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