December brings Christmas decorations, shopping and holiday cheer. In Fayetteville, December also brings a few local traditions like the Rotary Christmas Parade, Holiday Lights in the Garden, Ryan’s Reindeer Run and Christmas plays in our local theaters.
For the 26th year, Cape Fear Regional Theatre presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a family-friendly show. BCPE introduces the audience to the Herdman kids – a rowdy, misbehaving bunch feared by children and avoided by adults. When Grace Bradley is suddenly charged with directing the local church Christmas pageant, she is ready for anything – until the Herdmans show up and collide with the Christmas story head on.
BCPE is based on a book written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. The book was adapted into the play and made into a television movie in the 1980s. It tells the story of Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys – the six delinquent Herdmans. They go to church for the first time after being told that the church offers refreshments. Despite protests from church members, they are given roles in the Sunday school’s Christmas pageant, which results in telling the Christmas story in an unconventional fashion.
This comedy has become a holiday staple in many communities including Fayetteville, with several actors returning to the stage year after year.
“It is a wonderful thing that involves the whole community,” said Molly Malone, CFRT Director of Education and Outreach and this year’s director for BCPE. Malone promises great performances by child and adult actors, a few favorite Christmas carols and a lot of laughs.
“It’s family-friendly, it’s fun and light,” said Malone. “The wonderful thing about bringing your kids to see this play is they will see kids just like them onstage.”
Malone and CFRT are using three full casts for BCPE this year with 45 to 60 actors in each, for a total of about 170 participants. The red, green and yellow casts rotate shows to allow more families to be involved and to make sure the younger actors are not over-burdened with rehearsals and performances. Children in the cast range from 6 to 16 years old.
Of the adults in the play, three of them fulfill their roles for all three casts – Megan E. Ray as Mrs. Bradley, Bo Thorp as Mrs. Armstrong and Greta Marie Zandstra as Ms. Bradley, a new role scripted specifically for Fayetteville audiences.
Zandstra plays the aunt, Ms. Bradley, who comes to help Mrs. Bradley out because dad is deployed “like we see in many families in Fayetteville,” Malone said.
“And this year, we brought back Bo Thorpe playing Mrs. Armstrong on video, like we are Facetime-ing with her.”
For many, being a part of BCPE is “a full family experience” Malone said. While the kids are performing roles on stage, many parents are volunteering behind the scenes. “We get to use the parents of the kids as back stage crew – running the light board, sound, corralling baby angels.”
Malone said she is proud of all three casts, sighting that each brings something unique to their interpretation of the story. “They have been driven, working real hard since October,” she said. “It is fascinating to get to work with these kids … many have worked on the play multiple times.”
Some actors start as baby angels and make their way to angel choir or shepherds. With some even having a chance to play a Herdman, Malone said.
“BCPE kicks off the Christmas season so well. We get to see the story with angels, baby Jesus and the shepherds,” Malone said. “Every community has children like the Herdmans … the message is don’t neglect them or turn your back on them, but embrace them. This story brings all that together.”
BCPE runs through Dec. 18. The CFRT box office is open Monday – Saturday from 1 – 6 p.m. Ticket are $10 for children and $15 for adults. Visit www.cfrt.org or call 910.323.4233 for more information.