Northwest NEWS

January 10, 2000

Entertainment

Holiday warmth and spirit fill 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

by Deborah Stone

   Woodinville Repertory Theatre's third show of the season is a well-known holiday story that is guaranteed to warm even the coldest of hearts. Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever brings home the true meaning of Christmas with humor and a great deal of tenderness.

   A group of neighborhood bullies, the Herdman clan, attempt to take over the annual church Christmas pageant, threatening to call it The Revenge at Bethlehem and ruin its longstanding traditions. The pageant's director, Mrs. Armstrong (Pat Overstreet), breaks her leg and the job falls to Grace Bradley (Laurie Thode), a mousy and timid woman, who quickly becomes overwhelmed with her duties.

   Grace has difficulty controlling the situation once the Herdman kids take over and all chaos erupts. She attempts to tell the story of Christmas to the Herdmans, as she realizes they have never read the Bible or attended church in the past.

   The Herdmans use their own life experiences to interpret the story and it is through this group of rag-tag children that the true meaning of the spirit of Christmas is conveyed. Ultimately, they are able to change the perceptions of those around them and be welcomed into the community.

   The cast, comprised mostly of children, does a commendable job in their roles. They show enthusiasm and spunk, as well as a sincere desire to connect with the audience. Director Laurel Watt gets her actors, some with little or no stage experience, to make their characters believable.

   "It is a challenge to find a way to work with a mix of experience levels, but they all have spark and the desire to act," comments Watt. "I had them do a lot of improvising and playing with the material in their own words. They are so creative and so open to suggestions. It was easy for them to develop believable relationships and capture the essence of their characters."

   None of the children knew each other before being cast for the play, but according to Watt, they bonded by the second week of rehearsals and were extremely cooperative and easy to direct. She says, "These kids were delightful to work with because of their willingness to be fully involved."

   What Watt didn't count on was the added bonus of having a cast that could sing well together. "I didn't require anyone to sing for their audition, so it was a joy to learn that I had somehow chosen actors with beautiful voices."

   The play concludes with several Christmas carols sung by the entire cast and it is the sweetness of the voices that adds true tenderness to the show. For information about WRT's upcoming shows and Youth Programs, call 425-481-8502.