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Merry-Go-Round Laughs with Lutherans

Theater Review | Syracuse New Times

James MacKillop reviews ‘The Last (Potluck) Supper’ at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse

Like the Catholic-based Nunsense franchise that preceded it, the series of five shows under the Lutheran-themed Church Basement Ladies banner is essentially vaudeville reborn. Any turn in the action can prompt a gag, a song or a spinoff skit.

The Church Basement Ladies series has been seen by perhaps a million people in Minnesota and the northern plains, where Scandinavian immigrants have a high profile. Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse produced the first of the series in 2008, a sequel in 2010, and has now moved to the fifth and final installment, The Last (Potluck) Supper, which premiered in 2013. The mood is relentlessly upbeat despite some grim offstage news during Potluck, which also serves as MGR’s season finale. The church is about to be closed, and one of the ladies, Mavis, must write its history.

Director and choreographer Lisa Myers has assembled a strong cast of versatile improvisers. Sandra Karas, a company favorite for a generation, takes over the top spot of Vivian, the crabbiest one who wears Wonder Bread bags for galoshes. Her disco spoof “This Gal” is the show’s top number. Drew Jansen’s music and lyrics are largely uninspired, but music director Jeff Theiss knows how to give them a theatrical buzz. As the action is set in 1979, the disco beat is one of the nostalgic riffs in the show.

Two players are veterans of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival summertime production of Menopause: The Musical, which shares many of Basement Ladies’ gags. They are Becca McCoy as Mavis, the earthy, bumptious farm wife, and Teri Adams as Karin, the never-stuffy head of the women’s group. Jessica Taige, a veteran of the 2010 Basement Ladies, reappears as Karin’s lovely and newly married daughter Beverly.

In the division of goodies among the three players, McCoy’s Mavis gets more than her share of choice lines, a gift she uses to good advantage. That’s because the role of Mavis was originated by Greta Grosch, who appeared in the first hit production and then wrote all the rest when Jim Stowell and Suzanne Zuellke did not wish to continue.

Newcomer Jeffrey Arnold Wolf, the only male in the cast, takes on the smiling, crooner Pastor as well as any other guy who might show up, whether it’s a bearded Norwegian farmer from the past, or a motor-mouthed auctioneer, his best incarnation. As with the other MGR productions of the series, this showcase of Lutheran vaudeville goes down as easily as Jell-O salad.
The Last (Potluck) Supper continues on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday. Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 11, 8 p.m.; Monday, Oct. 13, 2 p.m.; and Tuesday, Oct. 14, and Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. Call 255-1785 or (800) 457-8897 for details.

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