The holiday season is the most wonderful, but also the busiest, time of the year. With such chaotic schedules, it becomes easy for people to forget the true reason for the season. The comedy “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which runs at Unity Theatre today through Dec. 2, seeks to remedy this by reminding audiences of what Christmas is really about.
Adapted by Barbara Robinson from her 1972 book of the same name, the play was originally performed in 1982. Since then, it has been performed worldwide, including last year at Unity Theatre, where it returns this year by popular demand.
The play features Grace Bradley, mother of Beth and Charlie Bradley, as she takes over directing her church’s annual Christmas pageant after bossy Mrs. Armstrong, the usual director, breaks her leg. What starts out as a straightforward task turns into a daunting challenge when the Herdman children, the town troublemakers and bullies, show up at Sunday school and steal all the main roles. Mrs. Bradley, however, insists that the show must go on and resolves that this year will be the best Christmas pageant ever, even with the Herdmans.
“I just love this show because of how it brings families together. It’s just such a good Christmas show,” said director Cora Hemphill. Hemphill has worked as an actor at Unity since 2015, including playing Grace Bradley in last year’s production of the show. “I wanted to play some more with this story, but just in a different way as the director.”
Audiences who may have seen the play last year can expect some fresh elements to this year’s production.
“There’s different cast members, of course,” said Hemphill. “We’ve added a few different twists this year. I really liked looking at this show as a comedy, so we’ve had some fun making some characters bigger and adding a few little things.”
This year, Houston resident Betsy Fisher plays Grace Bradley. “I love the play because it’s the Christmas story, but it’s also such a fun, honest, family way of telling it, because I’ve grown up in church where we do some sort of Christmas pageant or nativity on Christmas Eve, and it’s true, sometimes you kind’ve lose the wonder of it. So I just love how the story has the kids that almost feel like they don’t belong at church, so the story kind’ve reminds everybody at the church that this is why Jesus came in the first place, that everybody does belong and we need to love on the ones that are rough around the edges.”
The play also stars Michael Prince as Grace’s husband Bob, Hanna Prince as Beth Bradley, Sadie Royer as Charlie Bradley, Leslie Wood as Mrs. Armstrong, and Barry Brass, Kristin Hilgart, Devin Norwood, and Rick Perkins as other church members. Jake Knowles, Julia Hoeschle, Gillie Kocian, Colten Cook, Colt Krenek and Clara Hemphill play the Herdmans, and the show also stars other local children as numerous church kids and pageant members.
“When I was little, I got a chance to work with some professional actors, and I loved learning from them,” explained Hemphill. “So for me, this is such a special way that I can be like those people from my past and teach these children and encourage them and help them discover things about their characters.”
“It’s so much fun working with the kids,” said Fisher. “They’re hysterical and they ask the sweetest questions. They have a lot of energy. And it’s always fun to see kids start understanding about theater, about having to act the whole time even if you don’t have anything to say.”
“People should come to the play because it’s a fun, sweet show that can’t help but get you in the Christmas spirit,” said Hemphill.
“It’s just such a great Christmas story that reminds you to not get bogged down with the nitty-gritty and the wanting Christmas to be perfect, and that sometimes when it’s out-of-the-box and completely different than you thought it would be is when it’s the most fun and the most perfect Christmas,” added Fisher.
The play runs through Dec. 2. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children and can be purchased by calling the Unity Theatre box office at 979-830-8358 or by visiting tickets.unitybrenham.org.