by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
ABET opened its final show of 2012, with Barbara Robinson’s charming and very funny Christmas play, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” ABET has added AN ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE ON SATURDAY, DECEMBER 22 AT 6 PM, which will be your only opportunity to see the play if you don’t already have reservations. It’s so popular that all originally scheduled performances are sold out. (As originally scheduled, it will continue December 14 , 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23, at 8PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 PM on Sundays). All performances are at 716 Ocean Blvd in Atlantic Beach Florida. For reservations call 249-7177 or visit www.abettheatre.com.
This play is based on a 1972 book by Ms Robinson and it has been done all over the USA, but this is the North Florida Premier at any community theatre as far as we know.
Let us say from the get-go that this is an excellent play to take children to see, since it has a number of children in the cast and kids love to watch kids on stage. It is also short, just over one hour, perfect for the short attention spans of the younger set.
This is the tale of a family of bullies; the Herdmans, who learn the meaning of Christmas. They are played by six terrific kids who include Nick Dondero (Ralph), Lauren Bell (Imogene), Lucas Figlietti (Leroy), Alie Speckman (Claudine) Alison Miller (Ollie) and Cady Dorrian (Gladys).
The story is narrated by Ponte Vedra High School tenth-grader, Isabel Dondero as Beth Bradley. Ms. Dondero, whom we had seen previously at Players By The Sea in “Once Upon This Island” and ““Xanadu,” is excellent in this story-teller’s role.
It seems that her mother Grace Bradley (Maggie Martin) has taken over the responsibility of their church’s annual Christmas Pageant, much to the dismay of her loving and likeable husband, Bob (Everette Street) and her ten-year-old son Charlie, played very believably by sixth grade Jack Tucker. From past experience Bob knows he will be called upon to do many chores involved with running the pageant and Charlie will once again wind up playing a shepherd in the play.
But this year’s pageant has a new wrinkle. It seems that Charlie is frequently bullied by the Herdmans at school, who frequently forcibly take away the desserts from his school lunches. One day he makes the mistake of telling them that they should come to his church’s Sunday School where the minister always provides desserts.
All six Herdmans arrive at the church on the casting day for the Pageant, and with bad manners, bad attitudes, and rag-tag clothing take over all the major roles of the upcoming pageant. Since the story of the birth of Christ is foreign to them, they have their own ideas about the manger, the wise men, and the treatment of the baby Jesus. Since Grace could not find any parents who will allow their baby to be cast as the infant Jesus, a doll fills the role. To tell you more would spoil the play for you, let us just say there is a happy ending. Getting there is delightful and fun and includes a number of reverent traditional Christmas songs by the large cast of talented children dressed as angels, shepherds, wise men, and others involved with the Nativity scene.
Other children in the play include Morgan Farrin, Isabella Carson, Sebastian Carson, Sarah McCawley, Jardale Harris, Samantha Selders, Tess Miller, and Claire Hamann.
Grace, as you can imagine has her problems getting the Herdman kids to conform and added to her problems is the constant advice by last year’s director, Mrs. Armstrong ( Kimberlin Osofsky) who is laid up with a broken foot, and is constantly on the phone giving Grace advice and trying to control this year’s pageant.
Jack Barnard appeared as Reverend Hopkins, while Daniel Osofsky, Jason Dean were fireman. Various housewives in cameo roles included Nancy Barrett, Amy Tillotson, Theresa Buchanan and Aine Healy-Richardson (who co-directed this play with ABET Artistic Director Celia Frank).
The set design by Celia Frank includes simple living room furnishings, and a church interior with bleacher seating for the pageant participants. The colorful costumes, that included both everyday dress, (with lots of red for the Christmas season) and traditional nativity scene costuming were designed by Aine Healy-Richardson.
The lighting design was by Bryan Frank, with Gordon Frank handling Lighting Crew duties; the two also designed and built the large cross structure on the wall of the church. The light board was operated by Taylor Nadeau. The production was dedicated to the late Tine Harris, an actress who was very active on their stage and as a volunteer.
As we have mentioned, children will love this show, but as adults with no children we found it very entertaining and humorous with some life lessons to be learned. Mr. Street and Mrs. Moore, both seen on this stage in previous ABET productions, were delightful as patient All-American parents. The children were excellent in their various characterzations of residents in Biblical times.
Thanks to ABET for offering an involving production about the real meaning of the season.
THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM