Jeff Green | Dec 10, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - December 10, 2009 NFLT: The Best Christmas Pageant EverBy Jeff Green
The Herdman hooligans:Back Vilet Skuce (standing), Kelsea Babcock, Devin Clarke, Harlen Skuce. Front: Cody Steeves, Johnny Skuce.
The North Frontenac Little Theatre presented a Barbara Robinson play about everything that can go wrong in a production of a Christmas pageant last weekend at the Sharbot Lake High School cafetorium.
The production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” featured a large cast of young actors, with a few adults thrown in for good measure.
The play was the second presented by NFLT within the past month, and it fits in the youth focus that began with their production of Peter Pan last fall. Craig Godfrey produced and Sarah Hale directed the production, which drew about 500 people over its four-day run.
Janet Revell, in her first ever role with NFLT, played the optimistic, but ultimately exasperated Grace Bradley, who was charged with running the church pageant when perennial pageant director, busybody Mrs. Armstrong (Martina Field) broke her leg and ended up in the hospital.
When Mrs. Armstrong keeps phoning Grace with unwanted advice, it leads Grace to make the following fateful statement to her husband, and unwitting assistant, Bob (Barry Harding): “She keeps telling me about the things that can go wrong, but nothing is going to go wrong.”
Then the six Herdman kids showed up for the first rehearsal.
The bickering, wild, Herdman kids (Imogene - Kelsea Babcock, Ralph – Cody Steeves, Leroy – Devon Clarke, Claude – Harlan Skuce, Ollie – Johnny Skuce, and Gladys – Violet Skuce) spark fear in the hearts of all the other children in town.
As Charlie Bradley (Cody Matson) points out, the real reason that all the kids in town go to Sunday school is because the Herdmans never come.
Not only do the Herdmans show up for the pageant rehearsal, they scare all the other children into letting them have all the major roles.
So, Imogene becomes Mary, Ralph becomes Joseph, and Gladys, the little terror, plays the angel that brings news of Jesus to the shepherds.
All sorts of problems ensue, and the children, led by the scorned Alice Wendlken (Dayna Stone), who would have played Mary in the pageant if it weren’t for the Herdmans, tell their parents what is going on at the rehearsals. The church ladies (Sandy Robertson, Cathy Ryan, Samantha Lusk, Angie Cowdy) begin talking on the phone, Reverend Hopkins (Lesley Pickard) gets involved and pretty soon the whole town is up in arms over the mess that Grace is making of the production.
When the dress rehearsal descends into a near riot, and the fire department is called in because Imogene lights a cigar in the church bathroom, it all leads to a packed church for the pageant on Christmas Eve.
Everyone expects an unprecedented disaster to occur, and when it doesn’t happen, and the Herdmans show an unexpected interest in the meaning of the Christmas story, it is declared the ‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’
There were many stand-outs in the production, but first credit should go to Sarah Hale and Craig Godfrey for taking the production on, in spite of the theatrical maxim that it is best to “never work with children”.
One reason the production went off as smoothly as it did was that a good number of the parents of the actors did not just drop their kids off at rehearsals, they did a lot of work keeping the rehearsals moving and ended up taking on back stage roles as well, along with other community members.
Among the actors, Janet Revell brought a suitable naïve quality and a defiant spirit to Grace and she was well matched by Barry Harding as Bob, who really didn’t want to go to the pageant but knew enough to provide unquestioning support for his wife. Joelle Parr played daughter Beth. As the only character in the play who knew what the other characters were really all about, Joelle had to play the observant one. As her brother Charlie, Cody Matson had some of the best lines in the play, and he made the most of them.
The Herdmans were all good, constantly pulling each other’s hair, chasing the other kids, and bringing an air of mayhem with them wherever they went. The two girls had the juiciest roles, and as Imogene, Kelsea Babcock did a great job as the ringleader of the family, and the one character who undergoes a major change in the play.
For such a young performer, Violet Skuce certainly knows how to use her face and her eyes to convey a mischievous spirit. She stole every scene.
Among the other performers were Kaitlyn Hannah and Sidney Teal as narrators, Natalie Reynolds, Desiree Cyr, Keisha Ryan, Shirley Ryan, Keegan Love, Aaron Keefe, Logan Cowdy, Josh Keefe, Jack Revell, Owen Platenius, Amber Asselstine, Alex Revell, and Alexi Gray as church children, and Annika Putnam, Sarah Ryan and Alley Teal as baby angels.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was also a boon to the North Frontenac Food Bank. Food was collected at the door in addition to cash donations. As well several hundred dollars was raised through the sale of 50/50 draw tickets, with all NFLT proceeds from the draws going to the Food bank.