Church Basement Ladies True West Awards 2022
John Moore Column sig

One of the saddest stories of the local theater year is turning into one of the sweetest.

In July, Gene and Judy Bolles sold the venerable BDT Stage and its land to a Michigan corporation that will turn the 46-year dinner theater into housing after its closure next Aug. 19. And until then, Artistic Director Seamus McDonough is going to use every opportunity to dampen those dinner napkins with sentimental tears.

Right now, BDT Stage (known for most of its existence as Boulder’s Dinner Theatre), is running two nostalgia pieces in holiday repertory: “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” one of its biggest hits, is back with most of the 2015 cast intact. And running Mondays through Wednesdays only through Jan. 4 is another entry from the modest little “Church Basement Ladies” juggernaut. 

Little, yes. “Juggernaut”? Most definitely. This is BDT’s third staging from this series of musical comedies based on the 1997 book “Growing Up Lutheran,” which is centered on kindly parishioners who cook meals for church functions.

Wayne Kennedy Church Basement Ladies

'Away in a Basement' is your last chance to se Wayne Kennedy on a BDT Stage after 31 years.

Depending on your spiritual and theatrical outlooks, it’s either a blessing or a curse that BDT Stage won’t be around to stage all nine (count ‘em!) installments of the franchise. Seriously, No. 9: "The Church Basement Ladies Plowin' Thru," had its world premiere staging in September in Burnsville, Minn.

Directors Tracy Warren and Neal Dunfee are now offering “Away in the Basement,” which is set on the day of the church’s 1959 Sunday School Christmas program. What makes this one so special for BDT audiences is its cast of longstanding favorites. Bren. Eyestone Burron (with the intentional period) and Barb Reeves came out of retirement just to do the show. They are joined by Alicia Meyers and Wayne Kennedy, who, to many, have been the on-stage faces of BDT since the 1990s. Together, the four have BDT roots going back 136 years.

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The fifth cast member is 14-year-old Prugh Dunfee, who plays Meyers’ daughter both onstage and in real life (with Neal Dunfee). Her five years at BDT makes it 141. The two directors’ years makes it 187. Throw in Producing Artistic Director Seamus McDonough, who was born into the BDT family in 1984, and that’s 224 years of combined BDT blood, sweat and cheers. Add in designers, crew and band, and, well, you get the idea.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a group of people who have spent more time together on our stage performing over the past 45 years than this group of actors, technicians and musicians,” McDonough said. “To be able to have one last time with this group for us, as well as for our audiences, is truly a joy I can’t even describe.”

It’s rare for any business to get 14 months’ advance notice of its closure, but time can be deceiving. Kennedy has decided not wait for the massive finale — “The Sound of Music,” opening April 29 — to say, “So Long, Farewell.” “Away in the Basement” is his melancholy BDT swan song. (Onstage, anyway. He will stay on in his off-stage role as audio designer.)

That means one of the most popular performers in Colorado theater history is down to his final nine performances on the BDT Stage. (Unless perhaps the church ladies lock him in the basement until he agrees to one more go as Captain Von Trapp.)

For Kennedy, appearing with friends like Burron, who was his college classmate and next-door neighbor back at Loretto Heights University, “is the best, warmest feeling I can think of to wrap things up,” he said.

“This feels like a great way for me to go.”

Note: The True West Awards, now in their 22nd year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. Denver Gazette Senior Arts Journalist John Moore celebrates the Colorado theater community by revisiting 30 of the best stories from the past year without categories or nominations.

John Moore is the Denver Gazette's Senior Arts Journalist. Email him at [email protected]