The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is not your typical holiday story. Adapted from the best-selling book by Barbara Robinson, this rendition is laced with hilarity, mischief, and wonder.
Andrea Spitz (Producer and Director) and Krysten Lewey (Assistant Director) re-create this timeless tale in a fun and family-friendly way. Their casting of nearly thirty children into key principal and ensemble roles elevates the youthful energy and naiveté of the story.
Set in the present day, the play opens with a spotlight on the narrator, Beth Bradley (played by Tori Newby). She pulls us into her world and wastes no time revealing the antagonists of the story–the Herdman siblings. There are six of them, led by their cigar-smoking eldest sister Imogene (played by Lottie Doughty). The Herdmans are outsiders in their community, characterized as foul-mouthed bullies from a low-income family on government assistance. A stark contrast to the middle-class, church-going families of Beth and her peers.
The action accelerates when Beth’s mom, Grace (played by Kelli Boyd), is unexpectedly pressured into directing their church’s annual Christmas pageant, a role Grace knows the congregation will harshly scrutinize. Boyd plays Grace with a flustered determination that is fitting for the character. We root for her to succeed despite the criticism of her naysayers and cringe for her when the Herdman clan bursts into her audition room to usurp all the major roles in Jesus’ nativity story.
Fearless and energetic, Alice Levings delivers one of the standout performances of the evening in her portrayal of Gladys – the youngest and meanest Herdman sibling. One of the show’s most memorable moments occurs when she jumps atop a black box, strikes an authoritative pose and in a full-throated roar vows to rename the pageant “Revenge on Bethlehem.” In my view, this hilarious one-liner breathes insight into one of the play’s core themes: when we accept outsiders into the fold we inevitably challenge the status quo.
The other Herdman children–Leroy, Claude, Ralph, and Ollie–are played by Zachery Singer, Christopher G.H. Moga, Noah Davenport, and Ian Murray, respectively. Their chemistry on stage feels playful and natural, as does their scene-work with the other kids. Leroy (Singer) and Beth’s younger brother Charlie (played by Michael Greenleaf) have a memorable stand-off that advances one of the story’s pivotal plot points. Imogene also has a few special moments where her compassion shines through, thanks to Doughty’s performance.
Harlene Leahy (Costume Designer) and Sage Pfeifer Hicks (Makeup Designer) give the Herdman clan a distinctive and authentically gritty look that instantly lets you know they are not to be messed with, but also prompts you to question the sanity and whereabouts of their parents. The crux of the story takes place at a church, artfully distinguished by Andrew Greenleaf’s (Set Designer) recreation of the faceted glass windows commonly seen in sanctuaries.
Special kudos to Kyrsten Lewey, a home-schooled eighth-grader, for taking on the leadership role of Assistant Director in this production, that kind of creative inclusion and support is refreshing to see.
If there is one thing the play lacks, its ethnic diversity. Ironic given the play’s central themes are about the power of accepting outsiders and learning from people who are different than you. While well-executed and joyfully performed, the production does not reflect the fullness of the community it claims to represent. I hope Silver Spring Stage continues to include shows like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in its line-up, but makes a conscious effort to cast performers of color. This is not only valuable to the experience of the cast and crew involved, but also to the audience the theater desires to attract. For most people, their love for the arts begins at childhood, another reason why prioritizing ethnic inclusion is critical. When children, particularly those of color, don’t see themselves reflected in the art and stories they love it impacts their perception of what’s possible for them. Dreams go unfulfilled because they are dreams some never grow up knowing they’re allowed to have. As with the Herdmans, having a seat at the table and being exposed to an environment they otherwise wouldn’t have been a part of enriched the experience of everyone involved.
Overall, the play moves at a brisk pace and the use of spotlight, narration, sirens and quick scene transitions keeps the audience engaged and curious to see how the Christmas pageant unfolds.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever plays through December 17, 2017, at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 593-6036 or purchase them online.