by Anita McSorley
OVERLAND PARK — If you liked William Christopher as Catholic priest Father Mulcahy on the long-running television comedy M*A*S*H*, you’ll love him as a Lutheran minister in The New Theatre Restaurant’s production of “Church Basement Ladies.”
But fans will regret that Christopher, playing the role of Pastor Gunderson, doesn’t have a bigger part in this transplant from Minnesota, although his four co-stars more than make up for his occasional absence.
The setup is a simple one. Staged entirely in the basement of Pastor Gunderson’s Lutheran church, four long-time “church basement ladies” sing and dance their way through an evening that provides plenty of laughs, a touch of nostalgia, and just a little bit of religious introspection as well.
Fans of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” will have no trouble translating their Catholic experience to this Lutheran kitchen, but it might take a while for those unfamiliar with Lake Wobegon to warm up to the distinctly Lutheran humor.
The New Theatre always supports its visiting star with a first-rate local cast, and this production is no exception. Although standout Greta Grosch (who rivals legendary local star Deb Bluford with her masterful physical comedy) was imported from the Minnesota cast, Kansas Citians Cathy Barnett, Julie Taylor, and Bluford herself put in fine turns in their respective roles.
The showstopper of the evening, in fact, belongs to Bluford, who gets to belt out a terrifically campy song called “The Cities,” a Cruella-da-Ville-like tune about those world famous twin temptresses, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Christopher, on the other hand, glows rather than shines in his part, but it works well in a production whose religious message is woven quietly into the background of the church basement shenanigans.
Touching on the painful nature of change — both in the church and in life — the redemptive nature of service, and the inevitability of death, “Church Basement Ladies” gives its audience the best of both worlds and sends everyone home with a tune running through their head and a little something to warm the heart.
“Church Basement Ladies” runs through Nov. 25 at The New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park. For ticket information, call (913) 649- 7469 or visit the Web site at: www.newtheatre.com.