Naughty Meets Nice

What: ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’
When: Dec. 12th through 14th
Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.
Where: Brunswick Little Theatre
8068 River Rd., Southport
Cost: $6-17, available online
Info: www.brunswicklittletheatre.com

In 1972, Barbara Robinson penned a holiday story that reached such success it spanned generations after publishing. Likely, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will continue to touch the hearts of families as it is read aloud, performed as a play, or playing on the living room TV screen year after year.

Clockwise from the top: Sara Bivins, Cassidy Lytch, RJ Thomas, Noah Huntley, Nic Tewell, and Ryleigh Ingram will play in 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.' Courtesy photo

Clockwise from the top: Sara Bivins, Cassidy Lytch, RJ Thomas, Noah Huntley, Nic Tewell, and Ryleigh Ingram will play in ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ Courtesy photo

The book turned play turned movie is part of the Library of Congress Children’s Book collection as well as a Notable Children’s Book as deemed by the American Library Association, while the play has been called an “American classic” by McCall’s Magazine. First brought to the stages of Seattle in 1982, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will debut at Brunswick Little Theatre’s new playhouse this month.

The story follows the six Herdman children—known around town as delinquents for lying, hitting, and even smoking cigars—as they embark on their first Christmas pageant at the church. The hellions, normally not church-goers, have never heard the story of Christmas, and they set out to re-work the show to the chagrin of the rest of the cast.

The rough Herdman kids will be played by RJ Thomas (Ralph), Spencer Ballantine (Leroy), Cameron Troscianec (Claude), Nic Tewell (Ollie), Ryleigh Ingram (Imogene), and Quinn MaGee (Gladys). The show also will star Charles Patton as Bob Bradley, Gillian Carney as Grace Bradley, Logan Fitzhugh as Beth Bradley, and Alex Gilland as Charlie Bradley.

Director Debbie Skillman founded Stagestruck Players, Brunswick Little Theatre’s youth division in 2002, bringing much experience to this Christmas comedy. I learned a little more about Skillman’s take on the show through the following interview.

Folks will have four opportunities to see the show: Fri., Dec. 12th at 7:30 p.m., Sat., Dec. 13th at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sun., Dec. 14th at 3 p.m. Tickets are $6 for kids 12 and under, $12 for students with a valid ID, and $17 for adults, available at www.brunswicklittletheatre.com.

Katarina Gedman and Makyia Edwards will play Alice Wendleken and Maxine respectively in 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,' presented by Brunswick Little Theatre. Courtesy photo

Katarina Gedman and Makyia Edwards will play Alice Wendleken and Maxine respectively in ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,’ presented by Brunswick Little Theatre. Courtesy photo

Southport Magazine (SM): ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ is the first played you ever directed with the Stagestruck Players. What was your experience with the story, and why did you want to take this particular show on this year?
Debbie Skillman (DS): In that production the entire cast was youth ages 7 through 17. I fell in love with the book by Barbara Robinson when I read it to my personal children. The story features humor and compassion and speaks to the readers and audience with the striking honesty of children. Everyone who sees this play can identify with one or more of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

I also directed this show for St. Philip’s annual parish play and party. Adults and children absolutely adore this play. This particular production has both adults and children in the cast, so it is not strictly a children’s theatre show. I wanted Brunswick Little Theatre to have a Christmas production in their new home as the theater needs to earn money to be able to meet the costs, so I volunteered.

SM: Tell me about some of your favorite mischievous acts from the Herdmans.
DS: I think one of my favorite scenes is when the Herdmans decide that King Herod has been given short shrift in the church pageant re-enactment and decide during rehearsal that he needs to be written into the script. This throws the entire rehearsal into chaos. I also enjoy Gladys’ admonition to the shepherds and the audience at the end of the show.

RJ Thomas and Ryleigh Ingram will play siblings Ralph and Imogene Herdman in the classic children's Christmas tale, 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.' Courtesy photo

RJ Thomas and Ryleigh Ingram will play siblings Ralph and Imogene Herdman in the classic children’s Christmas tale, ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ Courtesy photo

SM: Why is this play deemed such an American holiday classic? What is the message inside all of the fun?
DS: The play is deemed an American classic because of the popularity of the book, followed by the play, and the movie. I imagine a majority of Americans have experienced a church Christmas pageant as a child, as the parent of a child, or as a church member. This shared experience and nostalgia make the show immediately relevant.

The message inside all of the fun is summed up in the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and that we all need to work on acceptance and understanding.

SM: What audiences would you recommend this show for and why?
DS: Absolutely all ages. Everyone will find something to laugh about, and everyone will identify with one or more characters. People will leave the theater “feeling good” and uplifted.

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