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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2006
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Imogene Herdman (Catie Duffey), sitting left, gets in a tug-of-war with brother Ralph (Tyler Bigson) over who will hold the baby Jesus. In rear are Ashley Harris as Gladys Herdman, Nicholas Boyle as Claude Herdman, Terry Sibley as Leroy Herdman and Gibson Fellows as Ollie Herdman.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Imogene Herdman (Catie Duffey), sitting left, gets in a tug-of-war with brother Ralph (Tyler Bigson) over who will hold the baby Jesus. In rear are Ashley Harris as Gladys Herdman, Nicholas Boyle as Claude Herdman, Terry Sibley as Leroy Herdman and Gibson Fellows as Ollie Herdman.

Bedlam in Bethlehem
It will take a miracle for the church to pull off its Christmas pageant after six unruly children take it over

By Barry Sublett
bsublett@decaturdaily.com 340-2448

"Hark!" the horrible Herdmans sing. "What's this story about a king?"

When six obnoxious, unchurched children bully their way into lead roles in the church Christmas pageant, directors are certain of an unholy night and a nightmare at the Nativity.

Backstage Theatre Co. presents Barbara Robinson's comedy "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." And as the title suggests, the play has a peaceful ending.

Director Darren Butler has presented the story every other year since 1989.

Imogene Herdman (Catie Duffey), sitting left, gets in a tug-of-war with brother Ralph (Tyler Bigson) over who will hold the baby Jesus. In rear are Ashley Harris as Gladys Herdman, Nicholas Boyle as Claude Herdman, Terry Sibley as Leroy Herdman and Gibson Fellows as Ollie Herdman. "It's such a classic story and it's hard to resist this little show," Butler said. "One thing I like about it is the dialogue. It's crisp, highly humorous and fast-paced."

Audiences will be treated to a talented group of children, teens and adults — some making their stage debut — who demonstrate how "the worst kids in the whole history of the world" almost ruin the story of Christ's birth, then suddenly realize its miracle.

The play opens with the Herdman children coming to the church because they've heard that the minister gives away food during Sunday school. When they are told about the Christmas play, they think it sounds like a spy novel and that it would be fun to participate. Determined to be a part of it, they threaten bodily harm against other children if they volunteer for lead roles.

Ralph, played by Tyler Gibson, snags the role of Joseph. Imogene, played by either Catie Duffey or Maddie Hutt, is Mary. Gladys, the most obnoxious of the clan (Ashley Harris or Prestley Bramlett), becomes the Angel of the Lord.

"Gladys thinks the Angel of the Lord is a superhero," Butler said. "She turns her robe into a cape and jumps off things yelling 'Shazam!' "

Grace Bradley (Caroline Duffey) is forced to take over directing the church production after perennial director Mrs. Armstrong (Bobbie Glenn) falls and breaks a leg. Grace is certain her attempts to make the Herdman clan understand the meaning of Christ's birth have failed. But a miracle occurs.

When Imogene picks up the doll that signifies the infant Jesus, she begins to cradle it and treat it as a real child, instead of slinging it around or stuffing it under the manger as she did in rehearsal.

And when the three Herdmans playing the wise men parade down the aisle, they are carrying the ham that was in their welfare basket.

"They don't understand frankincense and myrrh," Butler said, "but they understand that people brought gifts to the baby Jesus and the ham was the biggest thing they had."

From calamity to serenity, the church play is deemed the best ever because of the miracle that occurred.

"No matter how many times you see it or hear it, you're touched by 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,' " said Butler. "Just liked you're touched by the Christmas story."

Butler said the show is just over an hour long and it suitable for all ages.

"It's just pure fun."

How to go

What: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,"presented by Backstage Theatre Co.

When:Friday and Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Dec. 16, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday and Dec. 17, 2 p.m.

Where:Studio One, 214 E. Moulton St.

Cost:Tickets are $10 adults, $8 students and senior citizens. Call 308-2300.

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