Christmas stories need a moment to galvanize an audience and make the story a memorable one, maybe bring some tears and possibly make people think a little differently about the holiday.
Something like George Bailey getting the money. Something like Tiny Tim’s "God bless us, everyone." Or when Santa proves to be the real thing in "Miracle on 34th Street."
On that score – and on every other – "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," which First Stage opened Friday night at the Todd Wehr Theater, hits the mark right in the middle.
Imogene Herdman – played by Natalia Haworth – one of the horrible Herdmans who have used the threat of violence to get into this year’s pageant, is milking her role as Mary for all it’s worth.
She and her no-account brother who is playing Joseph sit on risers that have become the manger. She gives a clinical and funny impression of a Lamaze birthing ritual, complete with rapid deep breathing and holding the hand of her brother.
And then the doll pops out of the prop that is supposed to be her pregnant belly.
She holds the baby in her arms, staring deep into those plastic eyes. She climbs to her feet and, cradling the baby, sings an a cappella rendition of "Silent Night," complete with the hesitation of the deeply moved and the vocal wonder of surprise that she feels this way. It’s a great moment.
This is the moment you walk away with, but the overall joy and humor in this production are a perfect gift for a Christmas so bogged down in Black Fridays, big sales and cyber-shopping madness.
The story is simple. Helen Armstrong always produces the pageant at the church, but she has a broken leg. So the task falls to another member of the congregation, Grace Bradley, played by the always scintillating Niffer Clarke.
During the audition process, the six Herdman children – the bad kids on the block – decide to take part because they heard there are lots of treats to eat for kids in the pageant. The Herdmans take the roles of Mary…Read more...