Life may be imitating art during The New Depot Player's production "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" this weekend. Masterminds Cyndi Evans and Judy Mauran are directing over 20 children, ranging from age three to teenagers, in a play about staging a church Christmas play. But unlike their fictional counterparts, these directors don't have to contend with the hellion Herdman tribe.
This cast does justice and then some to Barbara Robinson's hilarious yarn that's also known in other parts of the world as "The Worst Kids in the World." The six Herdman children are a band of miscreants that terrorize their community at large. The perfect storm occurs when Charlie Bradley, played with aplomb by Bryce Edwards, informs his tormentor, Leroy Herdman, he really isn't all that bothered about his lunch being confiscated because he gets all the super snacks he wants at Sunday school. Cue the Herdmans' invasion of the Christmas pageant casting as they make their debut church visit.
Stephanie Davidson who is cast as Grace Bradley, the first-time pageant director called in when the veteran know-it-all is sidelined by injury, completely embodies her frazzled, yet determined character. Her mantra to combat the critical congregation becomes, "this will be the best Christmas pageant ever!" In spite of the obstacles, including the fire department being summoned the day of the play, her prediction comes true. The Herdmans' unconventional spin on the Christmas story brings home the true reason for the season to those jaded with the standard bathrobe and bed sheet line-up and eventually themselves.
All the actors playing the Herdman children have presence and charm aplenty, but Cassidy Livingston as Gladys Herdman is a precocious pleasure to behold. Her character channels a super hero to play her part as the Angel of the Lord. "Shazam!" indeed. Savannah Brown portrays sassy Imogene's transformation into a more reverent Mary to good effect.
With such a large cast, it's impossible to note all the worthy individual performances in this short space. That said, there are stand-outs that must be noted. As the play's narrator, Beth Bradley, Hayley Casola does a fine, expressive job keeping the story moving along. Her actual father, Paul Casola, also plays the Bradley dad with perfect dry humor, a fitting foil to Davidson's Grace. Going with the family trend, Sean and Max Eagan own the Herdman brothers' swagger. Blakely Bryant not only delights as the most vocal naysayer, but also sings a beautiful "Silent Night" solo. Speaking of solos, Davis Brooks shares his remarkable voice in "We Three Kings."
Through all the "ups and downs" of managing the large cast, director Cyndi Evans said, "the ultimate reward was seeing the kids grow into and embrace their roles."
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" runs for one weekend, at 8 p.m. on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 and 3 p.m. on Dec. 13. The performance is at the Rockdale Auditorium at 903 Main Street in Olde Town Conyers. Tickets are $12 each. Call Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts at 770-922-3143 or visit www.conyersarts.org for more information.