best christmas pageant everIf you haven’t seen Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, you have a few more chances this weekend. Get your tickets now because you don’t want to miss this show.

An annual tradition that kicks off the holiday season in Fayetteville, the BCPE has been running 26 years at CFRT. That’s probably because it is as much fun for the performers as it is for the audience.

As I was leaving a recent performance, a member of the Angel Choir chatted with her Dad as they walked behind us to their car. “My head hurts, my feet hurts, my stomach hurts, but I love the Christmas Pageant!”

There is something to be said about suffering for her art, I suppose. The Angel Choir, the Shepherds and the adorable Baby Angels were fantastic. One little sheep in particular caught the attention of the entire audience when he made a point to scan the crowd for his parents.

There are three casts rotating the performances: red, green and yellow. I saw a performance by the red cast. Only three roles are performed by the same actors in all three casts: Megan E. Ray as Mrs. Grace Bradley, Greta Marie Zandstra as Ms. Bradley and Bo Thorp as Mrs. Armstrong.

The play, written by Barbara Robinson and based on her 1971 book, introduces us to the Herdman kids. The Herdmans run around misbehaving and causing a ruckus all over town. Kids fear them and adults don’t want to deal with them.

Grace Bradley (Megan E. Ray) is suddenly charged with directing the local church Christmas pageant when Mrs. Armstrong (played on video by Bo Thorp) is recovering from an injury. Grace is ready for almost anything until the Herdmans show up and intimidate their way into the lead roles for the pageant. What follows is a lesson in tolerance and compassion and more than a little frustration. Along the way, Grace teaches the Herdmans the Christmas story, and their interpretation is enough to rile up just about everyone. 

Ray delivers a quality performance as the exasperated Grace. She expertly portrays the commitment and frustration that many of us have felt this time of year as we wrangle a rowdy bunch of youngsters and juggle responsibilities. Ray makes sure Grace Bradley comes off as a cross between Wonder Woman and MacGyver.

Her sidekick in this year’s BCPE is not the usual Mr. Bradley, her husband. CFRT tweaked the storyline a bit this year so that the Bradley’s are a military family with Dad deployed. It is a common situation for many families in the Fayetteville area. Lucky for Grace and the audience, her sister-in-law comes to help. Greta Marie Zandstra brings Ms. Bradley to life as the sounding board and helping hand for Grace who juggles rowdy kids, unhappy parents and advice to cancel the pageant. Last seen on the CFRT stage in Henry V, Zandstra is energetic and fun to watch.  

Another fun addition to this year’s performance is the return of Bo Thorp playing Mrs. Armstrong. This year, we see Thorp on video, Facetime-ing with Grace, giving instructions and advice and generally reminding the audience how much it misses seeing her on the CFRT stage.

Also a treat for the audience is the chance to see the six delinquent Herdmans in action - Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys. Anyone who has seen BCPE more than once has a favorite Herdman. This year, it was hard to pick between Imogene (played by Sydney Dukic) and Gladys (played by Ruth Lahl) in the red cast. Both young actresses brought their characters to life on stage with vitality and originality. And although BCPE director Molly Malone says all three casts are fantastic, it is hard to imagine a cuter Gladys with more spunk than Lahl. 

Malone deserves kudos for directing this year’s BCPE, and continuing the tradition of providing fun, family-friendly entertainment to Fayetteville audiences. 

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.

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