From now until Christmas, over 15,000 area students will be lucky enough to view a performance of StageOne’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Kentucky Center. If the sixteen children and five adult cast members deliver as fun and touching a performance as they did at the preview I attended Sunday night, there will be thousands of Louisvillians gifted with the true spirit of Christmas.
The 1972 book by Barbara Robinson (and TV and film versions that I remember watching as a kid) have been updated to the present day, which helps young audience members relate to the characters. The play opens with kids gossiping on cell phones about who will be cast in the church's annual Christmas pageant; when one girl mentions the good-for-nothing six Herdman children, she has to text her friend the naughty word that they have been known to use. Immediately, the play's storyline of how the "good" kids vs. the "bad" kids will pull off the sacred Christmas performance becomes evident, clear enough even for young theatergoers, and the stage is set for a humorous play within a play.
My theater date for the evening was my eager eight year-old son, and after reviewing the play with him, I learned that one of his favorite aspects of the play were the costumes. Or lack of costumes, as he said. Being able to watch regular-looking kids onstage dressed in regular-looking outfits helped him relate to the characters. It helped him understand that the nasty Herdman kids, who bully, tease, and steal from the churchgoing goody two-shoes, were still just kids. And when the two eldest Herdmans, Imogene and Ralph, are cast as Mary and Joseph, their leather jackets, ripped jeans, mohawk, and feather earrings help these excellent actors show both the humor and humanity in the juxtasposition of the rough-and-tumble kids playing the holy mother and father of Jesus.
The play runs exactly one hour, which is perfect for squirmy kids. My son and I never got bored and no subject matter was over his head. StageOne recommends the play for kids in grade three or higher, and I agree that they would enjoy it the most. My son giggled at Gladys Herdman as she bounded on stage as the Angel Gabriel and shouted, “SHAZAM!” and he was touched when the narrator realizes that perhaps the Herdmans, like Mary and Joseph, are outcasts who are confused, dirty, tired, and just looking for chance. The cast's outstanding acting (performed by a total of 32 children, depending on which performance you see) conveys the true Christmas theme of love and goodwill to all, and helps make this unlikely pageant the best one ever.
Weekend public performances are November 24, December 8 and 15 at 2pm and 5pm and December 20 at 10am and 12pm. To book a weekday matinee field trip, click here. To purchase tickets ($19.75) or for more information, visit www.stageone.org or call 584-7777.
Photo courtesy of StageOne.