The director of a children's Christmas play (literally) breaks a leg right before rehearsals begin. Sounds like a far-fetched set-up, right? Life sometimes imitates art, though; and while Best Christmas Pageant Ever's fictitious, wheelchair-bound Mrs. Armstrong turns her pageant over to unsuspecting Grace Bradley, I've limped along on crutches directing Youtheatre's production since breaking my foot in November.
It helps to love your material, and I love this show. Best Christmas Pageant Ever has everything a good show (especially a good Christmas show) should have. When Grace Bradley and family take over their church's Christmas pageant, they're forced to contend with incapacitated but pushy Mrs. Armstrong and the Herdmans - possibly the most inventively awful kids in history! Throw in three reluctant wise men, a group of ragtag shepherds, some adorable baby angels and a surprise visit from the fire department and you've got the recipe for a classic family comedy. Like all great Christmas shows though, Christmas Pageant finds a way to tickle your funny bone and pull your heartstrings in the end. It's that mix of comedy and holiday heart that has made the story an enduring classic since its debut 45 years ago.
For decades, Youtheatre's production was a December tradition alongside The Nutcracker, Holiday Pops and 24 hours of A Christmas Story. Local audiences flocked year after year as countless young performers cut their teeth in bathrobes and bed sheets.
I've lost count of how many I directed. Now, after a hiatus, the Herdmans and I are back with a fresh new anniversary production. For me, it feels like a family reunion. Not only are all my favorite characters back, but I'm reunited with a few faces of Christmas Pageants past. Janet Piercy, mother in all my previous incarnations, returns as Mrs. Armstrong, while an all-grown-up Kimi Holmes-Eckman graduates from playing daughter to mother. They're joined by local stage veterans Jim Matusik, Ellen Akins-Schroeter, Ben Wedler and a talented Youtheatre cast of thousands (or so it seems).
We're also excited to invite previous Pageant casts, friends and audiences who grew up on this story to a special free reunion party. So if you were ever the angel in the balloon sheet or remember when the Herdmans set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken down tool shed, join us before the Dec. 10 matinee to reconnect, reminisce and celebrate 45 years of the Fort Wayne favorite. (Just don't sit in Mrs. Armstrong's wheelchair; I may need it.)