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Family Play Time

Parents and siblings in real life play parents and siblings on stage in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Family plays a big part in Youtheatre’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, both on and off the stage. Based on Barbara Robinson’s funny and very popular children’s book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tells the story of the six wild Herdman children “crashing” the town’s usually prime-and-proper Christmas pageant. Rude and obnoxious, the Herdmans are the kind of people who think it would be really cool to rewrite the nativity story as a Kill Bill-style payback epic against Herod entitled “Revenge at Bethlehem.”

The list of characters in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever includes a lot of families: the bad Herdmans, the good Bradleys, and a mess of other siblings and relations. But the list of actors for Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s production seems to feature just as many real life siblings and parents.

All four members of the Soto family — Manuel, Terra, Alex (12), and Julia (8) — are in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and three members of the family play… a family. “I’m Charlie Bradley,” says Alex. “I’m the kid who makes all the Herdmans come to church and get in the pageant and ruin it for everybody.”

Terra plays his mother, and Manuel… “I play his father. It’s a big stretch.” Terra and Alex had been in productions together before, and encouraged the others to join in. Manuel says he had always been a little interested, while Julia, who plays a baby angel in the production, needed a little more encouragement at first. But she’s enjoying it now, and got some advice from her mother about using her “outside voice” while on stage. “She told me to always be loud so people in the way back can hear,” she says.

Terra Soto says being in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has allowed the family to see more of each other. “I work until I come to rehearsal, and Manuel works nights, so this is a chance for us to spend time together,” she says. “We’re together here at least two hours everyday.”

On stage, the role of the Soto’s second child is played by 15-year-old Tess Yandell. Her character, Beth, serves as the story’s narrator, caught between the snooty townspeople and the wild Herdmans. Tess is also sharing the stage with her older sister Shawnna. So, two sisters, about five years apart, both actresses — do they ever compete for roles? “No! I’m way more in to acting than she is,” laughs Tess (who was Alice in Alice In Wonderland last spring).

For her part, Shawnna says she was “helping out” with Youtheatre productions and had to be coaxed on stage, though she’s enjoying her role as the gossipy, hyper-critical Mrs. McCarthy. “It’s a funny role,” she says. “I have some really good lines.”

Mary and Colleen Carajewski (9 and 11 respectively) play two of the pageant’s baby angels. Mary has been on stage before, but this is the first time performing for Colleen (who is wearing a pink t-shirt that reads “Blame my sister”). She says she was nervous at first but is getting over it.

On the other side of the “stage nerves” scale are Jordan Collier and his younger sister Kara, and the Ankenbruck brothers, Jack and Mike. Not only are all these actors veterans of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but they all get to play members of the “bad” family, the Herdmans. “This is my fifth time in Best and I’ve always played the bad family,” says Jordan. He nudges his real-life sister Kara, who plays his stage sister, the bratty Gladys Herdman. “It’s not a challenge for her,” Jordan jokes. “She just kind of acts the same way. But really, we get along well and we have good chemistry on stage.”

As for the Ankenbruck brothers, they’ve played The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’s good guys and this year, they’re playing the bad guys. Guess which roles they prefer? “When you’re the bad kids, you’re rougher and you get to mess with people,” says Mike. “I get to grab Charlie’s lunch and eat all his twinkies. It’s a fun role.”

Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Saturday, December 16, 2 pm
Sunday, December 17, 2 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets on sale starting December 11. Call (260) 422-4226 between noon – 4 pm for tickets.

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