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Christmas isn't just for the good kids
Youtheatre's annual holiday classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Imogene Herdman (Hannah Moore), the young hellion who winds up portraying Mary in the annual church Christmas pageant, has her own take on being refused a room at the inn. “I don’t get a room at the inn? This ain’t fair! I’m going to just go to these people and say ‘I’m sorry, it’s the middle of winter and I’ve got this baby so you’ve got to get out or move over!’”
In other words, it probably would have been quite a different nativity scene had Imogene Herdman been allowed to interpret it her way. And that’s exactly what the rest of the characters in Youtheatre’s annual production of the Christmas classic are afraid of.
Based on Barbara Robinson’s popular book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever centers around the holiday Christmas pageant put on by a town church. Beth Bradley (Brooke Mullett), the play’s narrator, tells us that for years the pageant has been run under the tight ship of Mrs. Armstrong. But this year, Mrs. Armstrong breaks her leg, and so it falls to Grace Bradley, wife of Bob and mother of Beth and Charlie, to take up the challenge. “It’s absolutely awful,” says Jennifer Hunt, who plays Grace. “It’s so much work. She thinks it’s just the worst thing she could have to do. It’s so much work. She’s definitely not looking forward to it, and when the Herdmans come, it’s even worse.”
Yes, the Herdmans. They’re the town’s bad family, and they’ve chosen this year to take part in the Christmas pageant. “Actually, they really show up because they heard there were free snacks,” says Tate Kern, whose character David is a frequent target of Herdman abuse. “(David) is basically just a kid who tries to be cool, but he’s really shy. And he’s terrified of the Herdmans. He talks about how they set a shed on fire.”
He’s not the only one terrified of the Herdmans. James “Bo” Geyer (he plays Elmer Hopkins, the minister’s son) says the Herdman kids are “barely kids.” “They’re just mean,” Geyer clarifies. “They smoke, they drink… they just do everything a kid wouldn’t do.”
Sisters Hanna and Zoe Moore play sister Imogene and Gladys Herdman on stage, and they confirm that indeed, the Herdmans are bad. “Imogene smokes cigars in the ladies room,” says Hannah. “And Gladys drinks all the communion wine,” says Zoe.
Or at least the Herdmans start out that way. Part of the story of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the transformation of the Herdmans from rambunctious hellions into “normal” people. Zoe Moore thinks that the Herdmans were just sort of misunderstood to begin with. “The ‘normal’ people in town are just terrified of them,” she says. “But they never really give them a chance. Their parents leave them alone a lot and they don’t have the experience the other kids have.”
Kevin Fodrey (Leroy Herdman) says that, yes, Leroy is a “punk,” but he sort of felt bad for him and his siblings. “I don’t know what kind of Christmas the Herdmans usually have,” he says. “It probably wasn’t much.”
Kevin’s brother Alan plays Bob Bradley, the somewhat bemused and sarcastic father of narrator Beth. He thinks the moral of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever — and part of the play’s enduring appeal — is two fold. “It says that there’s ‘bad’ kids and ‘good’ kids, but both have plenty of room for change,” Fodrey explains. “The good kids outcast the Herdmans because of the way they act, but it’s not necessarily the Herdmans’ fault they act that way; they have poor parenting and poor living conditions. So the Herdmans are crashing the play, but they’re just trying to learn, basically. There’s two lessons: the bad kids are going to change, and that they really have a heart. And the good people learn that the word of God — because it’s the Christmas story — is for everyone, not just the good people.”
Brooke Mullett plays Beth Bradley, the play’s narrator. Through much of the story, she’s sort of caught in the middle; the Herdmans annoy her as much as they do anyone else, but the snobbish attitude of some of her friends (and the constant complaining from her mother) is also wearing on her patience. Mullett says Beth remains pretty grounded throughout the play. “Beth doesn’t change as much as the Herdman’s change,” Mullett says. “Beth is watching her mother have to put on this production, complaining about how terrible everyone is. But she sees how every little detail the Herdman’s have changed has actually made the pageant better, and made it more in the spirit of Christmas.”
“I think the play says a lot about what Christmas is really about,” Mullett continues. “Christmas is not only about the church pageant. It’s not about presents. It’s about being nice to people, being generous to people.”
And, the whole cast adds, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is also darn funny.
Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, December 19 and Sunday December 20, at 2:00pm
Tickets: $12.00 adults and students; $8.00 students/child
Box Office opens Monday, December 14, noon – 4 pm.