Providence Players of Fairfax and The Young Hearts present The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a fun, family-friendly production by Barbara Robinson, wonderfully directed by Beth Whitehead, who manages to inspire great performances from a large cast made up mostly of children. In the spirit of the season, half of all net proceeds from each performance supports The Young Hearts, a foundation committed to cancer research.
Technical Director and Set Designer Brian O’Çonnor uses a plain wall decorated with simple wreaths for the first act, and goes more elaborate during the second, with stained-glass windows for the interior of a church, as well as a wooden manger used as the “pageant” set. Projected photos and sound recordings by Chip Gertzog are used throughout the production as a clever way to depict phone conversations, with complimentary lighting designed by Jen Grottle. Susan Kaplan and Lisa Church are responsible for costumes, and make the children look very cute in “homemade “costumes, using pieces of clothing such as bathrobes and bed sheets.
The play begins with Beth Bradley (charmingly played by Hazel Thurston) telling the audience about a band of siblings, the Herdmans, who terrorize her school. Beth’s brother Charlie (a witty Brendan Dure) says that the only good thing about church is that the Herdmans do not attend, and there they find peace from the constant bullying and mayhem…that is, until he decides to brag to the Herdmans about all the free sweets that the church gives the children, which sends them running into the nearest pew! Charlie and Beth’s mother, Grace (Stephanie Hearne) is given the task of directing the church’s annual Christmas pageant after the overbearing Helen Armstrong (Julie Bratton) lands herself in the hospital with a broken leg. Grace’s directorial debut just happens to coincide with the arrival of the Herdmans, who immediately take over the pageant and begin to re-interpret the story!
There are six Herdman siblings in all, each one more unruly than the next. Chaotic and frenzied, they take to the stage like a stampede of wild animals. However, can the story of Christmas inspire the Herdmans to soften their nature? With the entire town looking on to see what will become of their beloved pageant tradition, Grace feels immense pressure and ridicule, as well as the other children who are shunted aside by the bossy Herdmans. Will they ruin Christmas for the community, or will it be the best pageant ever?
While some performances could use some fine-tuning, I was overall impressed — especially with the younger cast. Jody Lynn Parker was fantastic as the tough Imogene Herdman, and Kyleigh Friel greatly entertaining as her wild sister, Gladys. Jennifer Owens does a fine job as the town goody-goody Alice Wendleken. A group of young girls take the stage as “Baby Angels,” and are perhaps the cutest thing you will see this season.
With a fun plot and energetic performances, I would take the family to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for a dose of Christmas spirit — and with proceeds going towards such a good cause, that makes it all the merrier.
Running time is 75 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.