Need a quick tutorial in the true meaning of Christmas? The Colonial Players’ production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever fits the bill. The plot is simple: The Herdmans are a seemingly parentless group of siblings known for picking fights, smoking cigars and extorting lunch money from their classmates. They show up at Sunday school hoping to snag free snacks. Instead, they commandeer all the best roles in the church’s annual Christmas pageant. Chaos ensues. Lessons are taught and learned — by everyone.
Under the direction of Erica Miller and Rowena Winkler, the large ensemble cast of seasoned performers and debuting actors create an enjoyable show. Even the least experienced cast members are believable — and audible — in their roles.
Laura Ivey shines as Grace Bradley, the reluctant first-time pageant director who wrangles the rambunctious Herdmans, her own kids and a band of other children. Annapolis High School Junior Rachel Leonovich delivers a moving performance as Imogene Herdman, a ruffian who casts herself as the Virgin Mary and then falls in love with Christmas. West Annapolis fourth-grader Althea Francioch sparkles as Gladys, the smallest and perhaps rowdiest in the Herdman brood. As Gladys, Francioch brings spontaneity to the role of an Angel of the Lord who torments the pageant’s shepherds.
Modern props give the 1982 stage adaptation of the popular 1971 novel a current feel. The story is narrated — sometimes via video chat — by Beth Bradley, a level-headed teen masterfully played by Broadneck High School Senior Sedona Salb. The town busy-bodies, played by Debb Hollinghead, Kathy Garrity, Gin White and Shannon Benil, use cell phones to gossip.
The show lasts only an hour with no intermission. The plot is quick-paced and the script is filled with family-friendly humor. A couple of well-timed gags bring big laughs. Audiences of all ages will appreciate the Herdmans’ version of the first Christmas.
FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm, thru Dec. 29, Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Annapolis, $65 w/discounts, rsvp: www.annapolisshakespeare.org.