FAIRFIELD — I don’t know if there is a name for when, in a movie or a play, you change from silly to serious nor if there is a corresponding moniker for the morphed emotions that are evoked, but there really should be.
Nineteen-eighties filmmaker John Hughes (“The Breakfast Club,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”etc.) used the technique to great effect.
In relation to Missouri Street Theatre’s latest production, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” it is apropos because I went having not seen the show and was expecting something very different from what happened. I expected pure farce and while I got some of that, I was also surprised to find my heart warmed.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was written By Barbara Robinson and first published in McCall’s magazine and later made into a book in 1971. It became a play and made-for-television movie in 1982 and 1983, respectively.
The story is basically about how the Herdmans, six siblings from the “wrong side of the tracks,” finagle their way into the local church’s annual Christmas pageant. The bad news Herdman children were played with kinetic gusto by Emily Qvistgaard (Imogene), Harrison Schaufel (Claude), Thomas Sklar (Ralph), John Craig (Leroy), Hannah Brudney (Ollie) and Ariel Tenenbaum (Gladys).
I have run into Rachel Quinonez backstage at the Arty Awards working as a tech it is always nice to see folks who usually labor behind the scenes get their time in the spotlight. I have seen Quinonez in a couple of productions (Bay Area Stage’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Lion in Winter”), but not in a lead role.
As Grace Bradley, a mother suddenly given the task of directing the Christmas play, and consequently having to herd the Herdmans, Quinonez was superb.
Julia Franks played the role of Beth Bradley, Grace’s daughter and also doubled as the narrator and was excellent in both capacities.
Skyler Hebron played Charlie Bradley and was expressive and funny. Paul Henry as Bob Bradley, Grace’s husband, delivered his character’s witty lines with impeccable timing and tone. Juls Romualdi as Alice Wendelkeken, was appropriately snarky due to her losing the role of Mary in the play to Imogene Herdman.
There were a number of very funny situations with the Herdmans including one when they spontaneously attempted to “improve” on the birth of Jesus story and another that resulted from Imogene Herdman’s habit of smoking cigars in the church bathroom.
The play is fast-paced, funny and charming and tells the entire tale in about an hour including intermission. In the brief time, the cast nailed their respective parts.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is not a musical, but the Christmas carols in the pageant (“Silent Night,” “We Three Things” etc) were blissful in their delivery. There were strong singers in the cast including Tyler Bertani and Romualdi, who both added delightful harmonies.
One of the things I really appreciated was the sound design by Craig Scharfen. It can be tricky when you have two auditory things going on simultaneously such as a voiced-over phone conversation and dialogue between actors onstage, but they were done very nicely and I had no trouble following what was happening and who was saying what.
Director Dae Spering has brought huge Missouri Street Theatre productions to the theater downtown such as “Chess in Concert” and while “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” had fewer moving parts, the quality and attention to detail were still present when it came to execution of the respective theater elements and the delivery of the performers on stage.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected]
Missouri Street Theatre presents: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”
- 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday,2 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 29; 6 p.m. Sunday
- Downtown Theatre, 1035 Texas St.
- three stars out of four