Sunset Playhouse’s ‘Christmas Pageant’ is a Swig of Holiday Cheer
What do you get when you take a dash of A Christmas Story, a pinch of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a swig of holiday cheer? You get Sunset Playhouse’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
Based on the book by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tells the story of a group of kids in an annual church pageant portraying the birth of Jesus. With the director indisposed, it’s up to Grace Bradley to go on with the show. But when the boorish, miscreant Herdman kids are cast in the leading roles, things turn upside down. However, Bradley is determined to not only see the play through despite everything against her, but to make it the best Christmas pageant ever.
The actors bring an energy to the production that makes the comedy all the more enjoyable. Sarah Briana Monahan as Grace Bradley carries both the pageant and the show itself as the frustrated but patient and resolute director. All the children (consisting of two alternating casts known as the Red and Green cast), are all genuine in their rascally portrayal. I must give props to Evelyn Barta, who plays Imogene Herdman in the Green cast, for deftly moving from wild and unhinged to calm and introspective to carry the show through all its emotional peaks. To steal the show as an eighth-grader is no small accomplishment.
All the jokes hit their mark. One of the highlights is when the Herdman kids roast the nativity of Jesus, pointing out all the smallest loopholes and curiosities in the story. Why would the inn turn away Jesus? Isn’t the angel who comes out of the night to announce the birth of Jesus kind of like that comic book character I read about? Not only is this hilarious, but it also takes the weight off the heavily Christian themes of the play.
Another moment involving the pageant’s previous director Mrs. Armstrong (played by Peggy Neary-Frattura) off to the side of the stage endlessly giving pointers to Bradley over the phone. When Bradely hangs up, Armstrong continues to talk. You would think she’d disappear by the scene’s end, but she sticks around until towards the end of the first act with scenes changing around her. Does she seriously keep talking for that long?
Adding to the hilarity is an appearance by a barbershop quartet known as The Fourgone Delusions. The group sings original lyrics set to classic Christmas songs, leading to more wonderful moments as the gossipy neighbors do a dance with telephones in hand to the tune of “Sleigh Ride.” The quartet even lets the audience join in on the fun as everyone sings “Jingle Bells” during the second act.
While the show is all great fun, it can be bogged down by some unnecessary exposition. I don’t need somebody telling me that cigar smoke in the church caused everyone to think it was a fire when that’s exactly what transpires onstage right afterwards.
The second act, where the pageant is actually performed, is disappointingly rushed. Whatever themes and character development the play has is barely touched upon, leading to a resolution with little payoff. It doesn’t help that the story is somewhat predictable.
Despite some shortcomings, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has enough heart and enthusiasm to become another Christmas classic. Only the truly miserly wouldn’t crack a smile to this excellent, family-friendly production.
Through Dec. 23 at The Playhouse, 800 Elm Grove Rd. For tickets call 262-782-4430 or visit www.sunsetplayhouse.com.