By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

The Warehouse Living Arts Center (having recently abbreviated its name to “The WLAC”) presents the final show of the 50th anniversary season: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson, and directed by Frances Seidensticker Dodds and David Hill. The show premieres 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, with additional shows Friday Dec. 10 at 7 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12. Tickets can be purchased here.

L to R: David Hill, Frances Seidensticker Dodds, and “Pageant” cast alumni Ava Levine welcome the audience to The WLAC’s last show of the season. Photo by Guy Chapman

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been a seasonal favorite since its published debut in 1971, and this weekend’s performance marks the show’s return to the stage for the first time in 10 years. The play centers around Beth Bradley’s (Charlotte Robie) recollection of her church’s annual Christmas pageant, and the time the Herdman family became involved with its production.

The Herdman family remain the story’s scene-stealers. The six children: Imogene (Abigail Wynn), Ralph (Lane Fowler), Claude (Jake McSpadden), Leroy (Gabe Johnson), Ollie (Leddy Hollingsworth), and Gladys (London Key) are wild, unruly, and frighten the other children with their very presence. So it’s only natural that they crash the play’s rehearsals when they find out the church has snacks.

The Herdman’s interpretation of the birth of Jesus is a unique one, and all six hellions take an unusual interest in the larger story. The end result makes for delightful chaos for both the show and the audience. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a very funny story, and allows the show’s child actors to enjoy their roles as they constantly flee in terror from the Herdman’s mischievous antics.

“The play within a play” story angle works very well for this particular show as many of the children onstage are making their first ever show debuts. There are a few moments of “is this real or is this rehearsed,” but that spontaneity keeps the young performances fresh and charming.

The adult cast all fill their roles well in the production. Wendy Cook as “Grace Bradley” works overtime in trying to keep all the children in line for the unconventional play, while trying to explain (and reexplain) the Christ story to the overeager Herdmans. The concerned (and sometimes outraged) parents add extra comedic scenes as they adapt to this new version of their yearly show.

For The WLAC’s final show of the 2021 season, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a humorous and sentimental way to end out the year. The children’s cast performances are fun, the Herdman ensemble is just the right amount of naughty and vulnerable, and the adult cast’s exasperations over the anti-heroes of this “pageant” provide relatable comedy for adult viewers.

The cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. – Photo by Guy Chapman

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