Cooking up fun: New Era to perform ‘Church Basement Ladies’

Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–About to open its 27th show, New Era Dinner Theatre looks forward to putting on a musical close to its own roots, “Church Basement Ladies.” “I’ve been waiting to do this show for a long time because it’s a great tribute to the women who have been cooking for us for 26 years,” said director Bill Turner. A humorous show chronicling the experiences of four women who volunteer in the kitchen of their rural Minnesota Lutheran church to cook for a lutefisk dinner, funeral, fundraiser, and wedding in the mid 1960s, this show will giver everyone, Lutheran or not, a good laugh and a look at what it means to create a community.

Turner started directing the church’s dinner theatre performances in 1999 after the departure of their previous director. For his first show, he selected “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and recruited his high school aged son and his friends to fill many of its parts. Turner never looked back, and has since directed 22 shows.

For years, Turner wanted to perform “Church Basement Ladies,” and in 2020 he finally secured the rights for it. Just as he planned auditions for early spring, theatres across the world shut their doors due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing him to wait two more years to eventually bring it to the stage. However, he has found the experience of putting it on quite enjoyable, as the show’s small but talented cast has proven a pleasure to work with. “We have a really good crew,” he shared. “What I like about this show is a tight knit cast that works well together.”

The members of the cast agreed. Reverend Susan Bantz, understudy to Vivian for opening night, has found the play a delightful way to explore and laugh at the very common experiences Lutherans and just about any churchgoer would have experienced in the 1960s. “I love it!” she enthused. It’s got fantastic music, and it’s a funny show, and I’m a Lutheran pastor, and how could I not be in a show about Lutherans?”

For Bridgette Bissell, the friendships of both the women in the story and of the actors in real life have continued to affirm her love for theatre and of her new home in Muscatine. “I really like the people and the camaraderie–we’re like a little family,” she observed: “It’s really great for my second community show in Muscatine. Everyone has made it a welcoming place, and I love it.”

A dinner performance, people will get to enjoy some 1960s inspired cooking prior to the show, including gelatin salad, a hamburger hot dish, New Era’s famous green beans, as well as rolls, drinks, and a dessert. Anyone wanting to attend either the Oct. 7 or 8 performance at 6 p.m. or the Oct. 9 performance at 4 p.m. may purchase adult tickets for $30 or child tickets for $20 up until the day of the show either by mailing a check to New Era Lutheran Church, 3455 New Era Road in Muscatine or by calling 563-299-4710 or 563-263-0881 for additional information. People may also inquire about show only tickets as well.

A theatre experience unlike any other in Muscatine County, Turner hope to see an excellent turnout this fall. “It’s like the field of dreams for theatre,” he beamed, referring to the rural theatre with pride.

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