Second Helpings taste just as good as the original dinner, but third helpings? No thanks, they might have had a chance to go stale.
Unfortunately, that’s the case with A Mighty Fortress is our Basement. The first two shows in this franchise, Church Basement Ladies and the sequel Second Helpings were wonderful shows. There was a story to follow and plenty of humour, especially for anyone who grew up attending a small town church. All three musicals are set back in the day when the church was the centre of the rural community and the ladies ran the church’s day-to-day operations from the basement kitchen, where they kept things moving ahead by providing lots to eat for all the parishioners.
A Mighty Fortress is our Basement, currently on stage at Victoria Playhouse, is the third in the series, but it is written as a prequel, and leads up to the first show that appeared on the same stage two years ago. But rather than having a plot to follow, it is more of a series of vignettes – some funnier than others.
This prequel also underwent some cast changes, which might be disappointing to some theatre goers, especially those looking for the very funny Gail Hakala who in the past played the hilarious Mavis – you remember, she kept climbing in the freezer as a means of curing her hot flashes.
But that’s not to say this cast isn’t really good: Debbie Collins gives us an equally funny Mavis who tells us how much she loves farming. Mary Pitt is back as Vivian, the eldest of the kitchen crew. Ms. Pitt is a crowd-pleaser: She has the audience splitting their sides with just one deadpan look and her comedic timing is perfect. As Karin, Katie Beetham is recognizable at a traditional young woman, who thinks she might be able to do more, such as drive to the cities herself.
Sarah Caraher is the very young Beverley who is going through the process of officially joining the church. Caraher has a delightfully crystal clear voice. She also captures the annoying habits and awkwardness of an adolescent, handling the role very well. Dean Hollin is charming as the bewildered Pastor Gunderson, but we are left wondering why he is getting married.
So while the show is well-cast, it’s the writing that’s lacking. I assume there was a shortage of material, since all the funny and poignant moments were captured in the first two musicals in the series. Working backwards to create a prequel didn’t succeed when so much had already taken place.
Nevertheless, this charming cast is able to create some fun. If you hadn’t seen the previous two productions, this one might come across as just fine. But I recall many more laughs, as well as touching, teary-eyed moments in the first two, making this one just a little disappointing.
A Mighty Fortress is our Basement continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 16. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Photo: Mary Pitt, Debbie Collins, Sarah Caraher, and Katie Beetham in A Mighty Fortress is our Basement. Photo by Ruth Brown/Diane ODell.
A Mighty Fortress is our Basement
Written by Greta Grosch
Inspired by the books of Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Nelson, including “Growing Up Lutheran”
Music & Lyrics by Drew Jansen
Directed by David Rogers
Choreographed by David Hogan
Musical Direction by Jacqueline Sadler
Performed by Katie Beetham, Sarah Caraher, Debbie Collins, Dean Hollin and Mary Pitt
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
June 7 to 19, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson