The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Giving Tree Theater — through Dec. 22
Giving Tree Theatre opened The Best Christmas Pageant Ever on Friday, Nov. 29, and this holiday classic runs through Dec. 22 (tickets are $23). The non-profit Giving Tree as chosen to support with this show is the Cedar Rapids–Marion chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, an Indiana-based group with chapters across the country that build and deliver beds to children who do not have them. Their motto is “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town!” In addition to a monetary donation, Giving Tree is also collecting new bedding for the organization. So, when you are out shopping, pick up sheets or a blanket or two to take with you when you go to this lovely show.
Kelly Dybvig makes her directorial debut with this show, and she deserves accolades for guiding a children’s ensemble as well as an adult cast through the narration, acting and music of this holiday show. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever offers a glance into small town life, with the townspeople and the outcasts — and a clear line between the two. It’s when the outcasts — the Herdman children — take an interest in the church Christmas pageant that things begin to go awry.
The usual director of the pageant, Mrs. Armstrong (Elizabeth Cwik), has broken her leg and is forced to relinquish her role to a fellow congregant. Mrs. Grace Bradley (Katia Burdick) takes over with her devoted but reluctant husband (Jamie Henley) in tow. Although the stage time overall is focused on the children’s ensemble, the adults provide the structure to the show, as well as to the pageant within the show. The adult characters are a bit caricatured, but they are vibrant, funny and engaging.
When the Herdman children seek roles in the pageant, the cliche “there are no small roles, only small actors” actually comes to life. Zoe Wolrab plays the character of Imogene Herdman particularly poignantly.
Peppered with Christmas songs that are, well, mostly traditional, the show offers a sweet meditation on inclusivity and what the true holiday spirit is meant to be. Riley Hoover, as Beth Bradley, offers excellent narration throughout the play. This show provides moments for its audience to reflect on the fact that including others can be difficult, but that is what the Christmas season is all about.
While the actors’ voices were tentative at the start, they soon all settled into their own examination of the Christmas story, what it means in modern life, and how we all interact during this time of year. The children’s ensemble is the heart of this show, so when you’re looking for a cozy seat and a reminder of what the holidays can be, look no further than The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at Giving Tree.