ABERDEEN — The Aberdeen Arts Council will present the Christmas show “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m.
American author Barbara Robinson’s novel “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (1971) was first published in McCall’s magazine before being published as a book. Titled “The Worst Kids in the World” in other countries including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, it focuses on the Herdmans, six delinquent children who engage in smoking, drinking and shoplifting. When they hear the church offers snacks, they attend for the first time and learn about the local Christmas pageant. Despite the other church members knowing their bad reputation, they are given roles in the pageant and proceed to do an unconventional, irreverent take on the Christmas story.
As “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” begins, the narrator introduces the Herdmans as the worst kids the world has ever seen. These six kids — Imogene (Breeanne Hubbard), Claudette (Samantha Gugelman), Ralph (Logan Tilley), Leroy (Connor Woodin), Ollie (Cam Pincock) and Gladys (Maggie Gugelman) — smoke, curse, bully other kids, steal and once set fire to an abandoned toolhouse. Their father abandoned them when they were young, and their mother works two jobs and has no time to look after her rowdy kids. The Herdman siblings take care of themselves. The narrator’s little brother Charlie is a frequent target of Leroy Herdman, who likes to steal his dessert at school. Charlie mentions that it does not matter because he gets all the snacks he wants at Sunday school. The Herdmans decide to show up next Sunday to see what they can get.
They are only planning on a one-time visit, but when they hear about the upcoming Christmas pageant, they decide to stick around and participate. The pageant’s usual director has an accident that puts her in the hospital, so the narrator’s mother is brought in to lead the rehearsals. The Herdman kids push their way into the lead roles of Mary, Joseph, the three Wise Men and the Angel of the Lord. They have never heard the Christmas story before, but they want to learn everything they can. They are angry about the injustices that Mary and Joseph faced when they were put in the stable and when King Herod tried to kill baby Jesus. They are confused by the three rich kings bringing jars of oil as a gift and start questioning and asking real questions that even make the narrator question her own beliefs about the Nativity story.
However, not everyone is happy with the Herdmans, and at the top of that list is Alice Wendleken, a prim and proper girl who always used to play the role of Mary, until she was pushed out by Imogene. She keeps track of every wrong thing Imogene does and says, hoping that the Herdmans will make one major mistake so she can get her mother involved and force them out of the pageant. She sees her opportunity when one of the church ladies enters the bathroom during the dress rehearsal and finds it filled with Imogene’s cigar smoke. The fire department is called, and the church is evacuated in a panic. The dress rehearsal is called off, and the pastor is flooded with phone calls complaining about the Herdmans. The pastor, Reverend Hopkins, talks to the narrator’s mother and asks her if they should call off the pageant this year, but she has faith and asks him to let the show go on, saying it will be the best one they have ever done.
When it comes time for the pageant, it begins as usual, but the Herdmans soon start adding their own unique flavor to the show. However, the Herdman children have been changed by their studies and are more subdued and respectful than usual. Amid all the usual candlelight and singing, the three Herdman children playing the Wise Men bring a ham that was given to them from the food basket by the church. Imogene is overwhelmed by the kindness and begins to cry at the beauty and wonder of the scene, which she is now a part of. Everyone leaves the church buzzing about the play, talking about how the play was different this year though they do not know exactly why. The narrator, however, says that she understands why. The Herdmans did not portray the Holy Family and the story of Jesus’s birth as if it were something dry from a book. Rather, they understood the needs of the family and related to it in a genuine, powerful way that let them truly put their hearts into their roles.
Other cast members include: The Bradleys — Grace (Breann Duffin), Bob (Chris Pratt), Charlie (JJ Gugelman, Beth (Hadley Pincock); church people — Helen Armstrong (Debbie Ellis), Reverend Hopkins (Tyrel Nelson); church ladies — Luanne (Lura Schroeder), Betty (Ginger Gugelman), Connie (Sherri Horrocks); committee women/choir members — Madge (Tessa Woodin), Linda (Taylor Beach), Sandy (Rachelle Gilbert); kids — Alice (Aimee Hubbard), Elmer (Hunter Duffin), Teddy (Rhys Gilbert), Ivy (Katie Usher), Pat (Reegan Barclay), Yvonne (Quinverlit Aiyala), Doug (Radley Barclay), Judy (June Rowlan), Susan (Giselle Krehbiel), Janet (Jade Duffin), Margaret (Klara Hall); and Mrs. Herdman (Andrea Myler).
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is co-directed by Wanda McCombs and Andrea Myler.
Aberdeen Arts Council will also collect canned food that will be given to the Aberdeen Food Bank. Bring it to the performance.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. They are available at the door or in advance for reserved seating at www.aberdeenartscouncil.org.