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Youtheatre delivers The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-12-09


The Herdmans are the kind of family that can make even the most generous soul forget that the Christmas season is supposed to be about kindness, giving, and goodwill towards others.

In Youtheatre’s production of the holiday classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (December 20 and 21), the six obnoxious Herdman children are the worst family in town. They talk back to teachers, swear, steal lunches, get in fights, write bad words on the shell of a pet turtle and smoke cigars. The youngest Herdman even bites people. “She’s bad,” says Kate Stumpf of Gladys, adding that it’s sometimes tough to get in to the mind of a “wild child” like Gladys. “You can sort of let your imagination go when you’re playing someone like her.”

And in the play (directed by David Boggs), the Herdmans have executed a sort of home invasion of the annual church Christmas party and nabbed all the best parts. This doesn’t sit well with the other people in the town, especially Helen Armstrong, the pageant queen bee who has exercised complete control of the church Christmas show for as long as anyone can remember. “Mrs. Armstrong has been in charge of the pageant for years, but this time she breaks her leg and someone else has to take over,” says Jackie Pennington, who plays Helen Armstrong. “She thinks it’s going to be a disaster without her in control.”

The person taking the director’s mantel from Armstrong is Grace Bradley, the mother of the play’s narrator, Beth. Lindsey Sharp, who plays Beth Bradley, says her character is sort of a straight-talking regular girl, a bit of a smart aleck sometimes, who is trying to figure things out. “She does not like the Herdmans at all,” Sharp says. “She talks about how they act outrageously and look like refugees.”

At the same time, Beth’s friends and the other people in the community aren’t always that nice either, including people like Edna McCarthy (Amber Sattison), a “gossiper and busy body who think she knows everything,” according to Sattison. Beth’s best friend Alice Wendelken isn’t much better; she can be a prime snot, and her disposition isn’t improved when her longstanding role as Mary in the Christmas pageant is taken from her by the Herdman’s ring-leader Imogene. “Alice is a prim, proper pain in the neck,” says April Meuter of her character. “She and Beth are best friends, but she can be a little hard to take at times.”

The cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever all seem to agree on what the message of the story is. “Don’t assume, don’t judge,” says Rodney Walker, who is making his second appearance on the Youtheatre stage after his debut as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz last October. “People make judgments on what the Herdmans will be like, but they turn out to be wrong.”

“Everyone needs to be given a shot,” says Kyle Scherer (Reverend Hopkins). “Even the worst case people can do something amazing.”

But according to the cast, what makes The Best Christmas Pageant Ever such an enduring classic is that it whatever messages it has, it doesn’t try to hit the audience over the head with them. “It’s funny,” says Lindsey Sharp (Beth Bradley). “That’s the main thing about it. It has a message, but the whole play just makes you laugh.”

Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, December 20 and Sunday December 21, at 2:00pm
Tickets: $12.00 adults and students; $8.00 students/child
Box Office opens Monday, December 15, noon – 4 pm.
(260) 422-422

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