Theater review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Herdman family are at the center of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, onstage at Asheville Community Theatre Photo by Studio Misha

The mark of a great holiday show is finding one that is both entertaining and heart warming. Asheville Community Theatre has just such a show with its latest offering, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The show is based on the 1971 book by Barbara Robinson.

Lori Hilliard expertly directs a cast that consists of all ages and includes actual family members. Mother-and-son Emily and Will Cowan, and mother and daughter Cathe and Mia Bradshaw, and husband and wife Ron and Pat Barratt are among the relatives helping fill the stage.

The story centers on the calamity that befalls one small town during the holiday season. The Christmas pageant director finds herself in traction and has to call for back up. Tara Theodossis’s Grace is at the center of controversy when her son Charlie accidentally encourages the local hooligans, the Herdmans, to come to church and take part in the pageant. The good Christians are aghast at the doors being opened to the rough, dirty and uncouth family. Of course, there are lessons to be learned about judging people. There is also eventual acceptance and a journey of discovery for the Herdman children, who find special meaning and purpose in this new experience. It is a recipe for a perfect holiday stage treat, and there were more than a few members of the audience getting teary-eyed as the feared disaster of the pageant transforms into something of profound resonance.

Perry Berlin plays Beth Bradley, who serves as the narrator between scenes, guiding the audience along the journey. Cas Cusic is her little brother, Charlie, who invites the Herdman kids to their church and sets off the cascade of events. William Ehrsam, whose children Yanna and Liam are in the cast as well, is the supportive dad and husband who reluctantly plays along with the madness. He offers words of wisdom along the way, including a particularly poignant explanation as to why the good people of the church should accept the Herdmans. It rings all the more relevant in light of recent world events dealing with refugees seeking safe haven.

The Herdman kids are a rough and tumble bunch, led by the perfectly cast Nora Flynn-McIver as Imogene. She volunteers to be Mary in the pageant, and finds it to be a transforming experience in spite of her street-tough cynicism. Among the Herdman lot, the youngest, Glady, stands out, played with mischief and glee by Katie Purnell. Katie’s dad, Justin shows up as a fireman in the show at the height of chaos, after Imogene is found smoking cigars in the church bathroom.

This show is a touching tale, told by an inspired and inspiring group of actors and volunteers.

WHAT: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre,
WHEN: Through Sunday, Dec. 20, with performances Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, at 2:30 p.m. $12-$22

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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