It’s getting to that time of year when parents, grandparents, siblings and supporters bravely sit while angels forget their lines, little lambs bleat at the sight of a plastic baby, and voices squeak on high.
The Christmas pageant is a rite of passage for many young thespians making their theatrical debut.
This will be no more apparent when Powerhouse Theatre opens its season with the hilarious, heartwarming holiday show, The Worst, make that The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
Based on the 1971 book by Barbara Robinson, Vernon’s Jackson Mace has taken the reins to direct the play within a play, and says it holds a special memory for him as he used to read the book to his class when he was an elementary school teacher.
“I always tried to dramatize it and I have to admit when I got to the final page, I’d be saying to myself ‘do not tear up in front of the class,’” said Mace, who last directed the Norm Foster comedy-musical A Snow White Christmas at Powerhouse two seasons ago. “I also used to read A Christmas Carol and was thinking what other story of hope and inspiration can I do? I thought of this beautiful story that I used to read to the kids and I knew it would be a gem for patrons of the theatre.
“I still get choked up at the end.”
Normally performed in schools, Mace received special permission from the play’s publisher to adapt the script.
“This is a small show for the stage that has been adapted from the book. It’s normally just one act, but we were able to get permission from Samuel French to adapt it to our stage and put in two acts instead of one,” he said.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever takes place in 1962 as a small-town community plans to stage its annual nativity production at the local church.
“It’s the story of the nativity, same as ever. The boys play the shepherds; the girls are the angels; the minister’s son is Joseph and one girl has always been Mary because she’s so perfect. She’s like Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie,” said Mace.
However, this year’s production starts to fall apart when the lady who normally runs the pageant breaks her leg.
“The church auxiliary is in a panic on who will run the pageant and they enlist a mother of two from a Cleaver-like family to take over,” said Mace.
Railroaded into the director’s chair, Grace Bradley and her family meet their match when the notorious Herdman family decides to audition for the top parts. Actually forget audition, they actually bully their way into the show, says Mace.
The Herdmans are absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie and steal and smoke cigars (even the girls). They talk dirty, hit little kids, cuss their teachers, set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down tollhouse, and take the name of the Lord in vain. So no one is prepared when they invade church one Sunday and decide to take over the annual Christmas pageant.
“The Herdmans are handed everything and their youngest (Gladys) has all their attitude times six, and she plays an angel,” said Mace. “The question is how they will pull off the show with these hooligans in the main roles. They’re feisty and like my wife says, if you like Miss Piggy, they fit the part.”
The humour comes out in the outrageous situation surrounding the pageant, which audiences actually get to see in the second act.
“The audience is put into suspense on how it will go,” said Mace, adding there is a reason that the worst in the title of the play is crossed out. “You get to find out how it went from the worst to the best.”
As in any Christmas pageant, the play is a true family affair, with 18 children and 13 adults in the production.
“All the kids become a part of the pageant,” said Mace, adding one cast member who plays the church organist will actually play a donated early century pump organ. “It’s not a musical but you’ll love the selection of Christmas carols the kids sing in Act Two… It’s an uplifting story of the human spirit. If you love Christmas nostalgia and a feel-good kind of show, you’ll love this.”
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever opens at Powerhouse Theatre Nov.30 and continues to Dec. 10 (except Sunday and Monday) at 7:30 p.m. Matinées are Sunday, Dec. 4 and Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, ticketseller.ca.