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Church Basement Ladies

Church Basement LadiesApril 4 – May 13, 2012
Book by Jim Stowell and Jessical Zuehlke
Music and Lyrics by Drew Jansen
Inspired by the books of Janet Letnes Martin and
Suzann Nelson, including the Best-Seller Growing Up Lutheran

Church Basement Ladies was originally commissioned and produced by Troupe American, Inc. at the Plymouth Playhouse, Minneapolis, Minnesota under the direction of Curt Wollan. Opening night, September 8, 2005

The church basement kitchen throughout much of America is often the heart and soul of any church. In Church Basement Ladies we meet the pastor, three main kitchen cooks and one daughter who run the kitchen and care for the congregation by preparing and serving the food. Like any great kitchen, problems are solved here as well.We see the four women handle a Lutefisk Dinner, a funeral, an Easter Fund Raiser, and, of course, a wedding. They stave off potential disasters, have fun, share and debate recipes, instruct the young, and keep the pastor on due course. This musical comedy based on recipes, food, and change in the church is funny, heart-warming, and down to earth. It will bring back memories of many people you know from churches everywhere.


Director Notes
Cast Bios
Production Staff Bios
Theme Dinners
Church Basement Ladies Press Release
Read a Recent Review of Church Basement Ladies


Church Basement Ladies Archive Photographs



A Note from the Director…

It is wonderful to be back to the Round Barn Theatre to begin another season of theatrical enjoyment for Northern Indiana.  Few shows can serve up more enjoyment than Church Basement Ladies.  As we enter a new theatrical season in the spring of an election year, what could be more fun than experiencing the changes a group of giving women and their pastor are going through themselves. Set in the Johnson presidency during the mid to late 1960’s, Church Basement Ladies follows the lives of four women and a pastor as they share their lives with each other while serving others.  During the show we experience the resistance to change, new marriages, new relationships, great loss and success all while cooking and serving up food for a church full of hungry people. I would love to dedicate this show to my mother who raised in the Midwest and was half German, half Swedish and all heart,  She was always ready to feed someone else, listen to someone else’s story and embellish one or two herself.  So sit back relax and in the words of Harry Truman, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

David Craven


A Note from the Music Director...

While this is my first time music directing Church Basement Ladies, it isn't my first experience with it. I was first exposed to the Church Basement Ladies sensation in 2009.   I was blown away by how people responded to this show. They were pounding on tables they were laughing so hard. I was concerned with some of the people barreled over in laughter.  I was afraid they couldn't breathe!  And this is NOT an exaggeration!  I spoke with Curt Wollan, the producer and director of the original production and asked him what he contributed CBL's astronomical success to. He quite simply said that it's successful because people can relate. Everyone knows a character from this show in their personal life.  Whether your Aunt reminds you of Mavis or your sister reminds you of Vivian, someone in this show is bound to make you nostalgic.  So enjoy our production here and hopefully you will enjoy it and relate to it as much as everyone else seems to. Personally, I certainly can relate to their love of food.

Travis Smith


Church Basement Ladies Cast


Pastor E.L. Gunderson


Matthew C. Scott

Mrs. Gilmer (Mavis) Gilmerson


Nicole Horton

Mrs. Lars (Vivian) Snustad 


Kelsey Celek

Mrs. Elroy (Karin) Engelson


Melody Goodell

Miss Signe Engelson


Em Laudeman


Church Basement Ladies Staff


Executive Producer


Richard Pletcher

Associate Producer


George Bush

Artistic Director


Jeremy Littlejohn



David Craven

Music Director


Travis Smith

Production Stage Manager/Props


Monica Gauer

Technical Director


Ted Lantz

ASM/Sound Designer


Spencer Holdeman

Set Designer


Richard Pletcher

Costume Designer


David Craven

Lighting Designer


Jeremy Littlejohn

Box Office Manager


Jennifer Scheffer

Archive Videographer


Steve Jones



Time & Place

The action takes place in the basement kitchen of East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie in rural Cornucopia, Minnesota.



Scenes and Musical Numbers

Act I


Scene 1 the Lutefisk Dinner; December 1964


Closer to Heaven (In the Church Basement)


The Pale Food Polka 

Vivian, Mavis & Karin

Get Down To Business

Karin & Ladies

Scene 2 the Funeral; February 1965


Song for Willie  

Pastor Gunderson

My Own Personal Island 

Mavis, Vivian & Karin



Closer to Heaven (Reprise) 



Act II


Scene 1 Hawaiian Easter Holiday Getaway Furnace Fundraiser; Easter 1965


Get Down to Business (Reprise) 


The Cities

Vivian, Mavis & Karin

This Is Most Certainly True


Sing a New Song


Scene 2 the Wedding three years later; July 1968


Mother of the Bride

Mavis, Vivian & Karin

For Good Song

Vivian & Signe

Sing a New Song (Reprise)




Cast Biographies

Kelsey Celek (Vivian) hails from Dayton, Ohio and is a proud graduate of Wright State University.  Her favorite credits include Crimes of the Heart (Babe), I Love You Because (Diana) and The Light in the Piazza (Margaret).  Kelsey is also a playwright whose work has been performed around the country.  She sends love and thanks to her family.





Melody Goodell (Karin) attended the University of Florida and is proud to be a Florida Gator!  Melody has performed professionally in California, New York, West Virginia and Florida.  She most recently finished participating in L.A.’s Next Great Stage Star.  Some of her favorite credits include Janet in The Rocky Horror Show, Yvonne in Sunday in the Park with George and Laura in Lost at Sea.





Nicole Horton (Mavis) grew up in Wisconsin and holds a BFA in Muscial Theatre from Western Michigan University.  Favorite shows include The Last Five Years, Sunday in the Park with George, Closer Than Ever, Rent, The King & I and Beauty and the Beast. 

“For my Grandma, who was a Church Basement Lady!”





Em Laudeman (Signe) is happy to be returning home to the Round Barn after a 5 year hiatus.  A recent graduate of Elon University with a BFA in Music Theatre, Em currently resides in New York City where her Off-Off Broadway credits include Beth in Little Women and the first readings of the new musicals ID and Firebird with NYU.  Em has been working regionally from Nebraska to Buffalo, NY in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Logainne, Fame the Musical as Serena and The Sound of Music as Liesl.  Em would like to thank her friends and family for their endless love and support!



Matthew C. Scott (Pastor Gunderson) is from Orbisonia, PA and has been a professional Actor / Director for 17 years.  Matthew first worked at the Round Barn in 1997, and has been here periodically ever since.  RBT audiences may remember him most recently as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (2006), Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2007), and Hucklebee in The Fantasticks (2008).  Some of his other favorite roles around the country include Benjamin Franklin in 1776, the Teacher in The Baker’s Wife, Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Saunders in Lend Me a Tenor, Reverend Mother in Nunsense A-Men, George in She Loves Me, the Baker in Into the Woods and Aslan in Narnia. 

“Thank you to my lifetime friend, Jeremy Littlejohn!”


Staff Biographies

David Craven (Director) is thrilled to be directing for a fourth year at the Round Barn Theatre.  Previous directed shows include Barefoot in the Park, Plain and Fancy 2010 & 2011, The Foreigner and The Old Rugged Cross.  David has a BS in Architecture Design from Georgia Tech and a MFA in Directing Theatre from Minnesota State University, Mankato.  David’s favorite direction jobs include:  Forever Plaid (2 productions), Anything Goes, Into the Woods, Reckless, Oleanna and The Rink  Favorite acting roles include : Smudge in Forever Plaid (5 productions) and Plaid Tidings, Curly in Oklahoma (3 productions), Pharaoh in Joseph, El Gallo in The Fantasticks, Jerry in  The Full Monty, Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate, Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsense Amen!, Billy in Carousel, Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, and Jesus in Godspell.David owns Atlanta’s largest caroling company, Like the Dickens.  Visit Like the Dickens online at .

Monica Gauer (Production Stage Manager) was born and raised in nearby Laporte, Indiana.  She graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a B.A. in Theater Arts, after which she married her high school sweetheart.  When she was younger, Monica remembered coming to the Round Barn Theatre and now she is excited to work here behind the scenes.  She hopes you enjoy the show!

Spencer Holdeman (Sound Designer) is 22 years old and was born and raised here, in Nappanee.  He attended ITT Tech and is thrilled to be spending his second season designing Sound here at the Round Barn Theatre.

Ted Lantz (Technical Director) is in his second season at the Round Barn Theatre after retiring from 34 years in Education.  He is at home on a stage, having been involved in Show Choir and Drama at Bremen High School.  A native of the Nappanee area, Ted resides with his wife, Chris, in nearby Wakarusa.  He enjoys frequent trips to his Alma Mater, Manchester College where his daughter, Kelsey, is a senior.  He especially enjoys visiting Maine, where his son, Jordan, is a student at Bowdoin College.

Jeremy Littlejohn (Artistic Director) is a native Hoosier who has been performing his entire life and getting paid for it for the past fifteen years!  There isn’t much Jeremy hasn’t done at Amish Acres having now worked here in three different decades both on the Joseph Stein Stage and in the Historic Area.  He is probably remembered for his performance credits, but is most proud of introducing straight plays to the Round Barn patrons by way of the Second Stage.  He has logged over 700 performances of Plain and Fancy, playing all of the male roles, and directed the show four times; including the 20th Anniversary Season.  Some of his other notable RBT accomplishments include directing Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, which is the most attended production in the theater’s history, starring in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Fiddler on the Roof, which are in the top five on that list, and his Masterwork, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.  In addition to being an Actor / Director, Jeremy is also an accomplished Lighting Designer, Stage Manager and Teacher. 

“This Act ain’t much, but through it, I’ve met Kings and Queens and I got to meet you.”   – From The Will Rogers Follies; Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green

Richard Pletcher (Producer), with his father LaVern, founded Amish Acres in 1968. The Amish farm was preserved and restored and is now listed in The National Register of Historic Places. Following a one year experiment in dinner-theatre with George Bledsoe in 1971, he added musical theatre to the interpretation of the historic farm by producing Plain and Fancy in the Locke Township Meeting House in 1986. It moved to the Round Barn Theatre in 1991. The play has been running for 25 consecutive years having surpassed 3,500 performances before audiences of over 350,000 people. Plain and Fancy’s Tony Award® winning author Joseph Stein and Tony Award® winning composer Albert Hague have attended Plain and Fancy at Amish Acres.

At Mr. Stein’s urging Amish Acres became a regional musical repertory theatre in 1996 with the addition of five shows in rotation with Plain and Fancy each season. Amish Acres has now produced seventy two different main stage Broadway musicals and The Round Barn Theatre stage is named for and dedicated to Joseph Stein. Eight of Mr. Stein’s musicals have been produced on his stage, including Plain and Fancy, Fiddler on the Roof, The Baker’s Wife, and Zorba, plus staged readings of Take Me Along, Rags, and Carmelina, plus a Second Stage Production of Enter Laughing. As you might expect, he has said that The Round Barn Theatre is his favorite regional theatre with which he has been associated.

In October of 2006, Dick and his wife Susan were guests of Joseph and Elisa Stein in New York City for the York Theatre’s Mufti Series production of Plain and Fancy, the last in a month long, three show festival of Stein’s work that included Take Me Along and Carmelina. Artistic Director James Morgan recognized Amish Acres’ twenty year production of Plain and Fancy in the program and in his introductions from the stage. The Pletchers and Jeremy Littlejohn attended the York’s presentation of the Oscar Hammerstein Lifetime Achievement Award in Musical Theatre to Joseph Stein in November of 2007. Stein was further inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in February of 2008. He passed away in 2010 and the Joseph Stein Memorial Fund was created to provide free season tickets to kids.

Travis Smith (Music Director) is returning to Amish Acres after spending the last few seasons performing and Music Directing various productions.  Originally from Columbus, Ohio, he has worked with several theatres across the Midwest.  Travis is also an accomplished Composer and Arranger, currently working on a new production entitled Steeple People Gospel about a male gospel quartet.

“Enjoy the show and please visit!”


Creative Team

Janet Letnes Martin (Co-Author of Growing Up Lutheran) grew up in Hillsboro, ND where the words Norwegian and Lutheran were synonymous. It was no surprise she graduated from Augsburg College, in Minneapolis, MN and married Neil Martin, a 100 percent Scandinavian- Lutheran man from Newfolden, MN. Janet started writing books in 1983. She wrote three books, co- authored three books with Allen Todnem, and one with her sister, Ilene Lorenz, before she teamed up to write and perform with a college friend, Suzann Nelson. Janet and Suzann have written nine books relating to their Norwegian-Lutheran rural background. Their book "Growing Up Lutheran, What Does This Mean?"won the Minnesota Book Award for Humor, and is the inspiration for  both Church Basement Ladies musical comedies. Janet and Suzann have performed as a comedy duo "Those Lutheran Ladies" from the state of Washington to Washington, DC as well as in the Medora Musical. Recently Janet switched gears and teamed up with author/artist, David W. Cook II, to write a fabulous new humorous book " Lemonade for the Lawnboy: The Executives Wives' Cookbook Committee." Janet lives in Hastings, MN and feels blessed that her family is all involved in their Scandinavian Lutheran heritage. She is co-owner of Scandinavian Marketplace and the online store with her daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Steve Green, her daughter, Sarah, is a national representative for the Norwegian Fjord Flatware Company and her youngest daughter Katrina Benedict is the costumer of Church Basement Ladies 2: A Second Helping!  and is grateful that her husband Andy knows how to make egg coffee. Her granddaughters, Sophia, Ariana and Myana Green and Nora Benedict are the love of her life. She dedicates her contribution to this play, to her late husband, Neil, whom she misses dearly.

Drew Jansen (Composer, Lyricist) A proud graduate of St. John's University in Collegeville (Class of '83), Arkansas native Jansen is in the midst of a multi-faceted career as a performer, writer and composer. In addition to penning the scores for Troupe America's How To Talk Minnesotan, The Musical and Church Basement Ladies as well as the History Theatre's The Gangster Musical, he is also one of the busier voice-over actors in town. An accomplished pianist, he has had the honor of accompanying such legends as Celeste Holm and Carmel Quinn. On camera, Jansen enjoyed a two-season run as “Ernie,” the announcer on Comedy Central's Let's Bowl! He was a contributing writer for television's Mystery Science Theater 3000 and created the text for numerous greeting cards and syndicated comic strips.

Suzann Nelson (Co-Author of Growing Up Lutheran) As half of the knowledgeable, funny, 100 percent Norwegian-Lutheran duo, "Those Lutheran Ladies", Suzann Nelson could just list her name under Janet Martin's bio and type: ditto. Names and a few places might differ, but their histories are similar and often identical from the month and year they were baptized and confirmed Lutheran to the day in 1968 when they graduated from the same Norwegian-Lutheran College. One of Suzann's daughters said that Janet and Suzann share a brain - something they considered a compliment until they realized she probably meant each had only half a brain. They haven't had time to consider the real meaning yet because they are too busy writing and publishing books about rural life in the fifties, developing new book and product ideas, speaking and performing. Lately they have been working with theatre folks who, Suzann says: "... are kinda different from the farm families I grew up with."  Nelson began life as a Johnson on a Noah's Ark farm:  two cows, two pigs, two chickens and two brothers, close to where the Kensington Runestone was found. After graduating from high school in Evansville, MN, Suzann boarded a train for the nearest Sin City, Minneapolis. She graduated with a Scandinavian Studies major from Augsburg College where she also met her 100 percent Norwegian-Lutheran husband, Ron, and someone named Janet Letnes both decent, wholesome folks who had grown up in North Dakota eating cream on bread. After further study at the universities of MN and Oslo, Suzann directed Concordia College's Language Village, Skogfjorden, and in off-seasons had three-piece suit jobs where she dabbled in government, public policy work, and putting on pantyhose. Eventually, Suzann and Ron moved to Grand Rapids, MN where they raised their two 100 percent Norwegian-Lutheran daughters, Senja and Siri. Now a mother-in-law, widow, and owner of an online bookstore,, Suzann spends her days and nights pondering ways to pay off her mortgage, looking for misplaced things, being fascinated by creative ideas her four grandchildren develop, and ironing used wrapping paper.

 Jim Stowell (Co-Playwright) Jim considers co-writing Church Basement Ladies with Jessica Zuehlke (his wife) “one of the most  amazing and unique opportunities in his theater career because I could work at home, have so much fun, and eat terrific food!”As a writer, actor, director, storyteller, Minneapolis theater legend, Jim Stowell is best known for his twelve one-man shows written and performed nationally. Among those Traveling Light was produced both live and as an Emmy award- winning KTCA production (St. Paul, MN) and published by Milkweed Press. Jim's most recent monologues include: Joe, and Cuba Si, produced by the Great American History Theatre; Three Rivers Meeting based on his experiences with the Prairie Island Native American community, produced by The Sheldon Theatre and The Anderson Center of Red Wing, MN; and Family Values, life with a Republican family in war-torn Belfast, Ireland. Mr. Stowell's dedication to the theater and the importance of story has spanned over four decades in every kind of theater career capacity and venue. Jim co-founded The Minnesota Ensemble Theater and The Palace Theater in the '70s.  A few of his lead roles include: Long John Silver (Treasure Island) at The Children's Theatre Company (Minneapolis), the title role in Uncle Vanya and in Macbeth with the Jungle Theater, which won him a Twin Cities “Kudos” award; and  Shimmer for which he was selected by The Twin Cities Reader as “Best Performance."  Other Minnesota theater credits include: Park Square Theatre, Penumbra Theatre, Illusion Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Cricket Theatre, Brass Tacks Theatre, and Paul Bunyan Playhouse.  National credits include: Theater for the New City, Perseverance Theatre, the Goodman Theatre. This is Jim's sixth season as the Light House Keeper/Park Ranger on Raspberry Island in the  Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield, Wisconsin. Watch for Jim at Stage North in the region. Now, Mr. Stowell is ready to produce Tall Shadows, his environmental biography of Earnest Oberholtzer and water conflict. Next, Jim and Jessica are again co-writing a musical, this time for families, entitled Wagon Load of Shoes, a true story about two pen pal girls who transform their respective towns in America and Germany after WWII.

Jessica Zuehlke (Co-Playwright) Jessica's career in theater and education began with a degree from Concordia College and an internship at The Children's Theatre Company. From there she pursued professional acting for twenty years, while working for the Minnesota State Arts Board and COMPAS. Completing her M.A. at St. Mary's University and heading the speech and theater program at Red Wing High School happily buried her in education completely. Currently she teaches Language Arts for students at risk. As the author of several children's theater plays, Church Basement Ladies is her first venture to co-write with her husband, Jim Stowell. They reside in Red Wing, Minnesota and Bayfield, Wisconsin.


Church Basement Ladies
Theme Dinner Dates: April 27- May 4

Each Round Barn theatre Musical production calls for a Theme Dinner and Wine Bar, a joyous celebration with menus written with tongue-in-cheek show references and double entendres, often obscure and ridiculous. the responsibility for such frivolity rest solely with Richard Pletcher. The ensuing menus are lovingly prepared by chef Ruth Miller whose sense of humor make it into it kettle and skillet.

Theme Dinner reservations required. 
For reservations call (800) 800-4942.

Pot Luck Carry-In Dinner

Menu Includes:

Chicken and Noodle

Vegetables and Whipped Peanut Butter Dip

Spring Greens Celebration
Ladies Aid Fruit Salad

Communion Bread
Hot Cross Buns

Swiss Steak
Broasted Chicken

Spaghetti Cassarole

Brown Sugar Baked Beans
Green Beans

Lemon Pie
Cherry Pie
Chocolate Cake
Ruth's Famous Crème Brule'

Iced Tea, Lemonade, Coffees
Beer and Wine available for purchase

2012 Theme Dinner Menu