Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This Year’s "Christmas Pageant" at StageOne Is Delightful Take on the Traditional Story

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Photo courtesy StageOne Family Theatre.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

By Barbara Robinson
Directed by Lucas W. Adams

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits.  All rights reserved.

So many holiday shows tend towards heavy-handedness, with the requisite message of peace on earth and goodwill. And while this production of the venerable stage adaptation of Barbara Robinson’s 1971 book doesn’t abandon that trend exactly, it is notable for the more subtle moments it discovers.

The plot is a simple, tidy story about a woman who inherits the direction of the annual church Christmas pageant after the woman who has produced it for several years breaks her leg. The unexpected challenge turns into a pending catastrophe when the six delinquent Herdman children volunteer for the production. Although their initial motivation is the free snacks, they quickly force their way into most of the primary roles and threaten to derail the whole enterprise.

What is really taking place, however, is that the rough-and-tumble kids from the wrong side of the tracks shatter the complacency of the mundane pageant experience, forcing the church members into a new appreciation of the Christmas story and perhaps their overall faith as well. What is really nice is that this observation is so effectively enacted by the cast without calling too much attention to itself – a refreshing lack of preachiness in a holiday show directed at children and families.

As Grace Bradley and her husband Bob, Leah Roberts and Doug Scott Sorensen play off each other with expert comedic timing, and the other handful of adult cast members provide well-balanced support. But the heart of the story is with Imogene Herdman, and she was vividly played the night I saw it by Elise Martino. (All children’s roles are double-cast.) The most emotionally impactful moments belong to this young actress, and she carries them off beautifully. The other Herdmans, as well as the more well-behaved children, are also effectively realized by the disciplined young cast.

Director Lucas W. Adams keeps the production firmly grounded in the traditional story but provides enough fresh nuance and detail to call this Pageant his own. Clocking in at a swiftly paced 60 minutes, the laughs and pathos are well-judged and result in a satisfying holiday treat that will delight the kids and give the adults in the audience enough laughs to hold their interest.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

November 24 & December 8 & 15 @ 2 p.m. & 5 p.m.
December 20, 10 a.m. & 12 p.m.

StageOne Family Theatre
The Kentucky Center, Bomhard Theater
501 West Main St.
Louisville, KY

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