12-17-14-bcpe.gif“The Herdman’s were the worst kids in the whole history of the world...”

After 23 years of presenting The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Cape Fear Regional Theatre continues to touch audiences with the spirit of the Christmas season.

Year after year, hundreds of children vie for their chance to grace the stage as Beth, Glady’s, Charlie, Imogene and even the tiniest baby angel or shepherd, wearing his father’s bathrobe. And each year, proud parents and theatre goers sit in the audi ence shedding tears, not just for delight of their own children, but for the touching moment when Imogene Herdman and her clan begin to fully understand the meaning of Christmas.

The story of the Herdman family is not a new one. In fact, the idea of a poor family without manners who bullies other children and infiltrates the church Christmas pageant simply for cookies and candy, is all too common in this day in time.

No one in the church, including the minister, wants to give the Herdmans a chance to be a part of the annual Christmas pageant. Reluctantly, Grace Bradley, first time director of the pageant, assigns the lead roles of Mary, Joseph, the Wisemen and the Angel of the Lord to the Herdman clan. Mischief soon befalls. The children never get through one full rehearsal of the pageant due to the Herdman’s questions about the Bible, “What are the wadded up clothes?”

“They just put Jesus in a feed box! Where was the child welfare?” and the group’s cigar-smoking shenanigans that leads to a small fire at the church.

When all is said and done, the spirit of Christmas overcomes the family as well as church members and pageant participants as they watch a very touching transformation.

As an audience member in Saturday’s matinee performance, I too, shed tears as I watched the story unfold. BCPE has become a “foot in the door” to theatre for many local children. Some we have even watched grow up in aother productions at the CFRT, after they’ve gotten their first taste of the stage through BCPE. It’s always a pleasure to watch children deliver their first lines on our local stage and others shine from their adorable portrayals of these characters.

One shining star in this performance was Gladys Herdman, played by Savannah Reese Toman. When performed well, the character of Gladys should steal the show with her rants of “Shazam!” and impersonation of the “Mighty Marvo” comic book character. Savannah was no exception. She delivered each of her lines with precision and meaning. She was animated and adorable and even at such a young age, she seemed to really understand everything she said.

My only disappointment with BCPE? The CFRT continues to videotape the part of Mrs. Armstrong. This character, written in the script as an onstage character, used to be performed LIVE by some of the great local female comedians of Fayetteville — the late Ann Tosco who played the original Mrs. Armstrong and the great Bo Thorp. Tosco was originally wheeled around the stage in a hospital bed which helped build the intimacy of the play and kept the humorous character live. While Thorp still plays the character on screen, I believe the CFRT misses some great laughs from Armstrong (Thorp) by placing her on video, which the audience is lead to perceive as “Facetime” via an iphone. In a world where everything seems to be changing so fast and technology is everywhere, can’t we just keep some things traditional? It would be nice, in this writer’s opinion, to forego the cellphones and video on stage and take the audience back to a time where everything was a little slower and a little more intimate.

Even with that said, I would be remiss if I did not tell you, if you are looking for a chance to spend an hour of quality time with your family, take them to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. There is no doubt if you see it once, you will make it a part of your family’s Christmas traditions.

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