As the 27th annual production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” premieres Nov. 30 at Cape Fear Regional Theatre, stage rehearsals are brewing this week for more than 193 children in Fayetteville. The show runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 17.

 “The BCPE” began as a short story written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. But it was the television movie adaptation produced in 1983 by ABC, also written by Robinson, that catapulted the story into a seasonal favorite. It follows the six Herdman misfits as they disrupt the traditional Sunday school play they’ve been given parts in. Their tendency for smoking and cursing makes them unfavorable in the town’s eyes to tell the Nativity of Jesus. Yet along the way, everyone begins to learn that Christmas spirit isn’t some ideal we hold others to, but how we treat and understand those different from us.

 For director Brandon Santoro, the play is incredibly close to home. He even claims that people from his hometown were inspirations for certain characters.

 “The Herdmans and I go way back,” he said. “I have directed this play a lot. I directed the regional premiere of the musical up in New Hampshire a few years ago, which was really fun. I think it’s a very fascinating show that (CFRT) does because of its size – the pure scale of it.” CFRT shared schematics of the new stage being built specifically for the show. It promises an actual church façade to preside over the story.

 Santoro said, “We have some new special effects. We added a bunch of music. There are a lot more solo opportunities, and we’re hearing a lot more singing across the board. Some fun surprises are going to help tell the story in a way that will hopefully blow people away. This is supposed to be, in theory, like the best redux version (of the show).”

 With 193 young performers, the theater has divided the children into three separate casts. According to Leslie Flom, marketing director for CFRT, three casts are necessary because, along with 18 public performances, the children will also be doing nine days of student matinee performances at local schools. 

 Up & Coming Weekly spoke with a few actors from the “red” cast, one of whom is Justice Haygood, age 14. This will be her fourth year in “The BCPE.”

 “I can definitely see the difference every year,” said Haygood. “My first year, I was a baby angel at age 11. It was really exciting because that was my first show at the theater. But last year looked a lot different. The set didn’t look as much like a church, and there wasn’t as much singing.”

 Briana Fewell-Johnson, age 14, is another veteran performer for the show. She plays one of the misfits: Imogene Herdman.  “I like how (Imogene) is nothing like me, so it gives me more of a push to actually be a different character,” said Fewell-Johnson.  She also noted that she thought the cast could have been more diverse “because Fayetteville is a mostly African-American community, so if you incorporate more people with like minds or looks then you’ll get more of a reaction from the community to come and see people who look like them.”

 Megan Steenbergh, age 16, plays Beth and is yet another repeat performer. 

 “I like that Beth is almost the voice of reason in the show,” said Steenbergh. “She’s mediating everything that’s happening. … That’s what I like about acting. We take a story that people can read on a piece of paper and think about in their minds, and we make it happen.”

 Santoro said, “It’s a huge part of the classic story – that anyone can be any part of it – and (this) is part of the message of the show as well. We’ve taken that to heart.” Shows run for approximately 60 minutes. For tickets, visit www.cfrt.org.

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