Orlando REP Presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical
It had the makings of a perfect Christmas pageant, until the Herdman children showed up and changed everything … for the better.
Orlando Repertory Theatre in partnership with UCF brings the Orlando community the spirit of Christmas with its production of Barbara Robinson’s 1972 fictional classic, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical. Originally not a musical, the play was adapted into a musical in 2016 and was playing at a family theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, when Orlando REP’s artistic director, Jeffrey Revels, learned of the musical version.
“Besides this being one of my favorite childhood stories that I read every year, starting when my second-grade teacher read it to my class, what I really love about it and [why I] chose it for this season, is that it is a story of two very different groups of people becoming better together,” said Revels, who is also the director of the production.
The musical consists of a small town’s annual Christmas pageant that goes wrong when the Herdman children, the town bullies, decide to audition for the local Christmas pageant and are cast in coveted roles due to a new director. High jinks ensue, including a fire in the church, but what also emerges are acceptance, creativity and learning the true meaning of Christmas.
“That is really the heart of the story’s message: it’s about listening and learning from each other and how we have a value to add,” Revels said.
Twenty-five actors make up the large cast, which includes 18 youth actors representing the musical’s children, as they embody characters who make you laugh, cry and think about the meaning of Christmas and accepting others who are different.
“It’s such an ensemble cast, and with the way the story is structured, it is about how these groups are coming together to make this play, instead of the story revolving around one character,” said Ashley Willsey, Orlando REP’s marketing director.
Even the characters’ names are symbolic of the message of acceptance and appreciation for others’ differences, as one character is named Grace, while the child characters of focus are called the Herdmans.
“They are children that have to be herded like sheep, and it takes someone with grace to help them follow the same path,” Revels said. “It’s a story that operates on so many levels.”
A Character for Everyone
As Revels grew up cherishing the original childhood classic, the hope is that new and older generations will enjoy The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical and fall in love with the menagerie of beloved characters that all have a message.
“Both children and adults will get very different messages out of the play,” Revels said. “We’re sharing the same story, but we are looking at it from different lenses.
“I think children will respond to physical comedy, humor and the music, but they will also understand the story of being changed and how listening to each other is our best solution for anything good to happen. I think the adults will look at it and get messages that it’s OK [as adults] to surrender your assumptions to give children a little bit of freedom to create something on their own that is artistic, new and beautiful.”
“It’s a show that will speak to kids and adults alike, because so many adults have grown up knowing the story, but it speaks across multiple generations,” Willsey said. “Families can come together and see themselves represented in characters onstage.”
Orlando REP’s season has been concentrated on theatrically presenting the message of young people as they have a voice and platform to show to the world, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical seems to line up with this same goal.
“You get a sense of the whole town here and the characters going through and coming out of the struggle together. It’s the Christmas story being told, showing grace to the world and to your fellow man,” Revels said. “Showing grace is truly the message of the show, and when we show grace to others, we are more accepting of others.”
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical continues its run through Dec. 30, with public performances every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
For more information, call 407-896-7365 or visit orlandorep.com. ♥