The cast area at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre is usually a very joyful place. The pre-show chatter is upbeat as the actors prepare to take the stage. It is never more so than the weeks that the cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever takes over the theatre.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, featuring a cast of what seems like thousands, but is really more like 60, fills the theatre with laughter and the unmistaken joy of Christmas. Each year, the presentation of the BCPE is the theatre’s gift to the community and its children. Those who have been in the community for a while, have come to know and love the story of the worst kids ever — The Herdmans. The play, simple in its construct, but incredibly difficult to put together, tells the story of the Herdman family and how they came to change the heart of a community through their appearance in the annual church Christmas play.
For CFRT Artistic Director Tom Quaintance, the BCPE is a labor of love. Quaintance took on the show during his first year at the theatre as a means of getting to know the heart of community. He thinks that was a good move, and has returned this year to direct the show alongside the theatre’s education director, Jae Powell. Since the community has embraced the show for more than 20 years, one of the duo’s main tasks is keeping it relevant.
“That really has to do with never taking the story for granted and never making it more complicated than that,” explained Quaintance. “This is one of those shows that does not need to be reinterpreted for contemporary times. It is as timeless as Christmas itself.”
He contrasted the show with the recent staging of Jesus Christ Superstar at the CFRT. “When we did Jesus Christ Superstar, we paired it with a pretty original idea, but the play remained based on the text,” said Quaintance. “But there is really nothing in BCPE that asks for that kind of change. The only reason you try to do too much with a play is boredom, not because you need to do anything with it.”
Quaintance said that the play will have the same feel as last year’s show, but it won’t be exactly the same. There are three separate casts performing again this year, which totals around 170 cast members or around 60 people per cast.
“We have a really good group of kids. There is a lot of camaraderie and a strong sense of community between them,” said Quaintance.
They have also developed a strong sense of family. At the beginning of practice, the directors brought the cast together and assigned them into families. Each family was tasked with getting to know and take care of their other family members.
“They have really taken that to heart,” said Powell. “As you know, when you get a group of kids as diverse as this together, you can sometimes have problems. But we haven’t.”
Instead what they have found is a group of children who look out for and take care of each other. Quaintance says each cast scores high marks in what he calls the “Big Cs: caring, compassion, camaraderie.
And that’s really the heart of the story in the first place — how a community finds it heart through the very children they thought would ruin the show. To share in this amazing Christmas experience, visit the CFRT website at www.cfrt.org. The show runs Dec. 6-16.