Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NY Fringe Festival Review: Sunday Best

The Most Fun You'll Have in Church Out of Church

Sunday Best
Presented by: Azddak Performances
Writer: Laura Canty-Samuel
Composer: Laura Canty-Samuel and Ethan Forrest Wagner

Summary: Have you ever wanted to laugh in church? Here’s your chance, and you might actually spend time praising God too. It’s the well-done “Sunday Best” featuring the talents of author Laura Canty-Samuel who plays 10 characters taking part in a Sunday service at the fictional Mount Carmel Church and their corresponding wide range of idiosyncrasies and emotions.

She’s backed up by the church choir (Xavier Rice, Kimberly Crane and Fola Azali Vann) and musical director and co-composer Ethan Wagner and his praise band (Anthony Richardson, Darrell Ward and Mike Tucker).

The show (amusingly listed as an order of worship in the program) features toe-tapping, hand-clapping gospel music with some thoughts, prayers and sermons from the characters in between. Among the characters are Mother Lucy, a grandmotherly type, Evangelist Reese who shares a word from God, Sister Marisol who isn’t happy about her husband’s call to the ministry, Sister Eunice who is frustrated in her attempts to give testimony by the choir which keeps adding refrains to its song, Minister Roland with a rapping sermon about being a soldier, a 4-year-old Sister Denay and Sister LaShonda who balks at directives about what women should wear in church, like a ban on open-toe shoes.

“What’s a toe going to do?” she questions.

Canty-Samuel makes lightning-fast, full costume changes for each of the characters, including wigs and hats. She adds some humorous prayers for health care and Glenn Beck, some interaction with the audience and lots of great music (there’s a nice selection of sound styles) to offer one of the most-fun filled church services around. In all seriousness, the selection of songs leading into the monologues seemed better thought out than the praise songs leading into sermons I’ve experienced at some church services.

• “Ride on King Jesus” with terrific harmonies by the choir and a stand-out tenor solo by Rice
• “I’m a Soldier” with Minister Roland dividing the audience into two parts to sing “I’m a soldier, I’ma. I’ma soldier” and the responding “What?!” And they did it with unfeigned enthusiasm.
• With lyrics like “Jesus Christ has got your back; ain’t it nice to have a savior like that?” what’s not to like? I love when theater honors God.

• It goes a bit too long (like some church services, dare I say?) at an hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. Some trimming, particularly of two songs focusing more on relationships between the characters and of the prolonged ending would form a tighter production.

Christians might also like to know:
• Booking information at

Fringe Tassels Awarded: 4.0

VENUE #3: Dixon Place
See it again Fri 28 @ 6

--Lauren Yarger


CHERAE said...

Great play well worth the time spent. you laugh and cry. Everyone can relate to all or at least one of the characters. Laura Canty- Samuels, really puts it together and with its crowd participation you cant help but love it. From Grandma Lucy to Marisol it is just wonderful. well put together.

Cherae Ward

CHERAE said...

SUNDAY"S BEST is a must see. Great cast and live musicians.. The best, from Grandma Lucy, to Denay its not stop laughs for the whole household. Get your praise on a whole other level.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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