LIMELIGHT THEATRE REVIEW
DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre has filled its Matuza Main Stage with Christmas spirit by opening the popular “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” on December 11, 2015. Barbara Robinson wrote a book of the same name in 1971, which she adapted for the stage in 1982. The play is also popular in Australia, England, and New Zealand under the title “The Worst Kids in the World,” which ought to give you a hint about aspects of the on-stage action.
This is the story of the Herdman family, a crew of disorderly and unruly hooligans. Their bullying ways are changed when they learn the meaning of Christmas, and the journey is hilarious. They are played by six terrific kids who include Zachary Davis (Ralph), Caragh Zeigler Caragh Zeigler (Ollie), Alexander Lawless (Claude), Kyler Unsworth (Imogene), Ella Escamilla (Gladys), and Will Gooden (Leroy).
The tale is expertly narrated by Mack Hazel as Beth Bradley, whom we saw last Christmas in Limelight’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” Beth’s remarkably patient mother Grace (Megan Morton) has taken over running their church’s annual Christmas Pageant, much to the chagrin of her reluctantly supportive husband Bob (Christopher Doody). Her eleven-year-old son Charlie, played very believably by Hayden Owen, is not so keen on the idea either, since he knows from past experience he will once again be cast as a shepherd.
But this year’s pageant will be like none in the past. Young Charlie goes to the same school as the Herdmans, who often bully him by taking the desserts in his lunch bag. One day, Charlie makes a mistake when he responds to the snatching of a candy bar by bragging about his church’s Sunday School, where Reverend Hopkins (Matthew Whaley) lavishly provides the youthful worshipers with candies, cakes, and other delights.
Well, what do you know, the Herdmans, lured by the prospect of free sweets, just happen to arrive at the church on casting day for the pageant. They are dressed in rag-tag clothing, and display bad manners and a total lack of religious knowledge. And they take over all the major roles in the upcoming pageant. The Herdman kids have their own ideas about the manger, the wise men, and the baby Jesus. Several parishioners have had previous encounters with these unruly children, and want nothing to do with them. The director has to resort to using a doll to cast the role of the Infant, as she can’t find a mother with a newborn who will agree to allow her child to be on stage with the Herdmans present.
Well, the pageant does survive suggestions that it should be cancelled, but to tell you more would spoil all the fun. The best written role of all the Herdmans is that of Imogene, who is a very animated young lady. While she has disquieting habits, which include smoking cigars in the church restroom, her subsequent portrayal of Mary is filled with reverence.
Other children in the play include Ashley Herbert, Madison Miller, Savannah Lawless, Madeline Pidcock, Nicholas Rodillas, Chanel Boll, Parker Colon, Molly Farrow, and Adalynn Fowler.
Theresa Buchanan, in a cameo role, plays Mrs. Armstrong, last year’s pageant director. She’s physically incapacitated this year as she is confined to a wheelchair due to with a broken leg. Still, she is on the phone constantly, giving Grace advice while trying to control decisions about the current pageant.
Other adults who make brief appearances as church members concerned with the pageant are played by Vivian Lampard, Mary Jung-Martin, Brenda Sawyer, and Gayle Farris.
In Act Two, the audience participates, playing the parts of audience members in a church setting before the pageant begins. We sing several well-known Christmas songs, accompanied by the large cast dressed as angels, shepherds, Magi, and others who appear during the Nativity scene.
A number of children were present in the Sunday Matinee audience and it was obvious that they loved the show. There were also many adults without children, who, like us, found it very entertaining and humorous with lessons to be learned. The children were excellent in their various characterizations of residents of Biblical times. Not caught up in the real meaning of the season? This pageant is a good way to start on your way.
The stage crew included the amazing Shelli Long as Director, Properties Supervisor and Music Director; Daphne Moore as Stage Manager; Matthew Whaley as Assistant Stage Manager; Miles Mosher, Sound & Lighting Designer; and Lorraine Rokovitz as Costumer.
“Pageant” will continue until January 3, 2016 and reservations are highly recommended. Call 904-825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org for additional information and tickets.