There are six men and one musician playing 23 characters. Interested yet? All are comedic experts whose physical comedy rivals Broadway's best actors! Now I've got your attention? This is the hilarious musical, CHURCH GIRLS, running at the Commonwealth Theatre Company in Highland Heights, KY. This show embodies the silliness of a NUNSENSE, but advances a gutsy challenge to political correctness similar to Broadway's BOOK OF MORMON.
The 'church girls' are trying to plan the annual Mother's Day program at the Umatilla Second Christian Church but their husbands, their children, and the local 'crazies' get in their way creating chaos, calamity and comedy. The actors perform stereotypes that hit too close for comfort, and you'll find yourself saying over and over again, "I know that person." Complicate that with costume changes that are unbelievably fast and songs that make you laugh, while at the same time, hold powerful social messages, and it sounds like the way you'd want to spend an evening. Church Girls is not to be missed!
The show is two hours, with a 15-minute intermission between acts, and the time flew by. I laughed through the entire performance, as did the rest of the audience. At times, the laughter was so loud that it was difficult to hear the next joke. The story is simple but the development of the action and character is masterful. Kudos to Ken Jones (Book), Christine Jones (Lyrics), Jamey Strawn (music) and Roderick Justice (additional material) for a laugh riot that hits on every social and political taboo that challenges Americans every day.
And let's talk about the recent Tony Awards where the outcry at the lack of women serving as stage directors reached a flash point. Why bring this up? Because the director of this show is a woman, and a talented one at that! Christine Jones (not only the director but also the lyricist) created side-splitting physical bits, perfectly orchestrated audience participation, and poignant moments within a hidden love story. Wake up, Broadway! There are women directing comedies and they're really good at it!
Congratulations to the amazing cast of actors and their quirky personas. The twin sisters Daisy Feldspar (Ken Jones) and Maisy Shirkwater (Roderick Justice) engage the audience and serve as the narrators of this wildly funny journey. With perfect comedic timing that rivals the best of the famous comedy teams, Jones and Justice portray the most outrageous characters wandering the streets of Umatilla. The town matriarch Minerva Beehimer (Rodger Pille) storms the stage with a wonderful singing voice and a special charm, which he utilizes during audience interaction; Cloretta Powers (Brandon Bentley) is an inspirational speaker who doesn't quite fit the mold; Sherry Coldenspore (A. James Jones) is our perfectly played ingénue who can hit some rock and roll high notes; and Revita Glory (Jeshaun Jackson) forces the ladies to question their values. Jackson has a powerful and commanding singing voice.
Now, remember the ladies of Women's Auxiliary are all men. That's right. The church girls are men, but you'd never know it. They glide around on their heels like super models on a runway, but then they disappear backstage, changing within seconds, into the lost children and the displaced men of the town. The set is simple and foreshadows events to come with paintings of the top 'Biblical disasters' from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to Noah's Ark and the flooding of the Earth. But the real star of the technical side of the show are the costumes! Designed by the Table for Five company (with no individuals listed) these character dressings create an entire city of perfectly inappropriate people. It should be noted that the costume dressers (crew members Will Jones, Madeleine Burgoon, Arianna Catalano) work so hard that the director gives them a curtain call.
The only warning I have is to arrive at the theater early. The playing space is hard to find, well hidden inside a large fine arts' building. Someone directing traffic would have been appreciated.
To say any more about CHURCH GIRLSwould really do the show a disservice. Too many surprises! I went in not knowing much about the show except that my friend enjoyed it when she saw it in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. (By the way, Cincinnati audiences welcomed their five-week run with glowing reviews and standing ovations.) I really think that's the best way to approach it. Just know that it's a hilarious show with an incredibly talented cast and it's well worth your time. And, if you happen to be a producer of Broadway, Off-Broadway or Regional Theater, then you need to buy a ticket and see this show now! It's a wonderfully silly show with a strong political bite (and a female director) that will surely make this a hit!