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    The Herdmans are "the worst kids in the whole history of the world." They lie, cheat, steal, and beat the other kids up. Their town considers this family of six unruly children to be incapable of civility and too far-gone to receive grace. 

    Year after year, StageOne Family Theatre puts on performance The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the story of the horrible Herdmans who take over their town's Christmas Pageant. This play, based on the book by Barbara Robinson, is funny and touching, with parallels to the Christmas story it depicts. StageOne’s performance is a well-directed and captivating version of the timeless tale.

    Of course, the audience members know that the Herdmans will not ruin the Christmas Pageant, if only because children see this play on field trips. But like all the best children’s stories, the ride is worth it. No matter what your personal religious beliefs, watching the mean, selfish Herdman children unravel the meaning of the Christmas story is poignant. No matter how you slice it, the spirit of Christmas is one of love and giving, a lesson these children so badly needed. The townspeople may wonder how such awful little beasts managed to convey the spiritual message of the Christmas play without missing a beat, but the outside observer understands. A child exposed to the sense of love and community for the first time will experience it different than one who has grown up with it. 

    One of the best parts about the "play within a play" structure of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is that it lets audience members with no theatre background experience the "framework" of a play. For this reason, seeing it on stage is a very visceral experience. It is in the nature of theatre, especially the casting and rehearsing process, that it involve a certain amount of chaos. While The Best Christmas Pageant Ever takes these situations to the extreme, there are moments that feel undeniably real. Watching pageant director Mrs. Bradley remind her actors to pronounce the t’s as they sang felt especially true, as did the portrayal of Mr. Bradley helping out with prop set-up. These glimpses into the world of directing make the attentive audience member appreciate the amount of sheer effort that it takes to put on even the simplest play.

    StageOne makes sure each child role is double cast so that there are built-in understudies, but also so that the actors will be able to attend school as much as possible. It is clear from the children's acting ability alone that they are disciplined; they fully embody their characters. The fact that they keep up with their schoolwork as much as possible during this period also speaks volumes to their dedication. This said, it is amazing that such young actors who have to work hard to put on a professional production and go to school can thoroughly convince the audience of their awfulness. Hopefully, the directors and producers do not have to deal with bullying children who set off the fire alarm by smoking cigars, but it is ironic such disciplined actors can present characters who are so wildly uncontrollable. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever makes it difficult to forget that, although they are young, child actors are nevertheless talented actors.

    The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has become a Louisville Christmas tradition, since it has been performed annually since 1986. As the Charlie and Beth Bradley point out at the beginning of the play, the drawback to having a well-directed yearly Christmas Pageant is that there are never any surprises. However, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever does not suffer the same fate. Nothing about Andrew Harris’ production feels stale. The play is condensed into an hour performance, probably so elementary students can sit through it. Although I would have been perfectly happy sitting through a longer performance, the play functions well in an hour’s length production, and it does not feel rushed. There is just the right balance between action, dialogue, and narration so that the audience understands the depth of what’s happening without being beat over the head with it. Also, the energy the actors put into the performance carries it.

    The story of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of six horrible children who discover the meaning behind Christmas. The performance hits all the right notes, and it is full of heart.  And who knows, maybe the Herdmans can inspire the Christmas spirit all around.

     Public performances are December 13 and 20 at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. For information on field trips, go here.

    Photo Courtesy of StageOne's facebook page

    Rebecca Ball's picture

    About Rebecca Ball

    As great lover of books and adventure, I grew up wanting to be anywhere else. I satiated some my wanderlust in the castles and expansive forests in Europe over the past few years. Now, I live in the city that will always be home with a cat who thinks she's a person.

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