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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

a Holiday Comedy
by Barbara Robinson

COMPANY : Lionheart Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : College Street Playhouse
ID# 4526

SHOWING : December 05, 2013 - December 14, 2013



The Herdmans are absolutely the worst kids ever. They lie and steal and smoke cigars (even the girls), talk dirty, hit and fuss. So no one is prepared when the Herdmans invade church one Sunday - and decide to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

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The Best Ever??
by playgoer
Monday, December 16, 2013
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is a pretty straightforward stage adaptation of Barbara Robinson’s popular holiday story. The regular Christmas pageant director is indisposed, and Mrs. Grace Bradley steps in to direct, not counting on the participation of the six unruly Herdman children. Her daughter Beth is the narrator, and the play moves quickly, with a large cast of children and a smaller cast of adults.

The Lionheart Theatre Company production of the play has changed the sex of some of the Herdman children, making them all girls. That makes the "even the girls" part of the play’s description a bit misleading in this production. Perhaps the choice was necessary to accommodate the mix of the auditioners. It does weaken the show a bit, but what weakens it more is that the Herdman children are the least engaging members of the cast. The oldest, Imogene (Caitlin Mussak), has to make the last few minutes of the play work, and she does, but there’s not a lot of differentiation among or menace from the Herdman children.

The Bradleys are all good actors. Janel Stover plays Grace with a combination of vulnerability and strength, letting the Herdman children run a bit roughshod, yet never truly losing control of the pageant. Alan Gilmer, as her husband Bob, adds a bit of good-natured humor in his hands-off reaction to the pageant. Anthony Hirsch, as son Charlie, and Reeve Hunt, as daughter Beth, both have a lot of energy and stage presence. So do Tamika Quartey as neighbor Mrs. McCarthy and Laura Buice as former pageant star Alice. The others in the cast all fill their roles ably. Director Tanya Caldwell’s job could not have been easy, given the different talent levels of her cast and the small backstage area in which to corral the offstage children, but she largely succeeds in making the story come to life.

Technically, the show is adequate. Gary White’s lighting design is good, and Bob Peterson’s sound design is fine, although sound cues often seemed a tad delayed in the performance I saw (perhaps to deal with backstage issues in getting people into position). The simple set uses a background painted like a holiday church interior (painting by Allie Carroll) for all scenes, so scene changes are pretty seamless, using lighting and actor placement to suggest different locales. As usual at Lionheart, all parts of the small playing space are used.

Lionheart’s production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is not a blockbuster of a show, but the payoff of the story is a heart-warming, small moment, and that comes through. No large production with numerous children is easy to pull off as a mainstage offering, and Lionheart’s attempt succeeds in getting the overall effect right. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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