FAIRFIELD — While the Charles Dickens’ tale about a cranky miser being transformed into a Christmas zealot is a classic, it isn’t the only Christmas show being offered despite the proliferation of adaptations locally. Missouri Street Theatre’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” opens this weekend and celebrates the season with much mirth.
“I don’t mean any disrespect at all, but next to the four different versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that were produced locally, our show is very different,” said Dae Spering, the director. “It’s funny, first and foremost. At the end, the kids who have been making you laugh put on a pretty neat little Christmas pageant.”
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” was a book written by Barbara Robinson and published in 1971. It was adapted into a play in 1982 and into a television special the following year, starring Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H fame. The story is about what happens when the worst children in town crash a Christmas pageant.
“It’s a well-known book and I’ve found out how well-known because people are calling for tickets and saying that they read the book or their kids read the book,” Spering said.
The play is the first non-musical that Spering – who has a long history of performing, directing and producing musicals – has directed.
“While there are Christmas carols in the pageant, it is not a musical where the actors stop the dialogue because the emotion is so overwhelming they need to tell you about it in song,” Spering said. “So I got through it really quickly without having to stage a huge Broadway show number and the kids got to delve into the characters and the staging and the story.”
While 11 of the show’s 15 cast members are children, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is not one of Missouri Street Theatre’s children’s productions. It is, instead, a main stage production of their professional company and follows on the heels of “Legally Blonde,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and “The Music Man.”
“We have a really strong cast, so the acting and performing are impressive. The narrator is Julia Franks and she is a triple threat who can sing, dance and act. She is a magical bunny on stage,” Spering said. “A delightful actor named Paul Henry auditioned and I told him ‘I like you, come join our team’ and he plays the father. And Rachel Quinonez, who is usually our stage manager, is actually playing the mother.”
Fairfield resident Quinonez, 26, has been impressed by Spering’s ability to precisely communicate her vision of the play to the actors. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” represents a number of firsts for her.
“This will be my first production with children and my first production with Missouri Street Theatre,” Quinonez said. “It is also the first time I have been back performing at the downtown theater since I was 11 or 12 years old doing children’s theater. There are great adults in the show, but finally being on stage with these awesome (Missouri Street Theatre) kids and theater kids from other productions is amazing. They are so professional.”
Quinonez worked for years as a part-time backstage theater technician and stage manager. While she relishes being in the spotlight, her heart is behind the scenes.
“I love theater in general and any way I can be a part of it is always going to make me happy. But if I had to choose between being an actress or being a tech or stage manager, at heart I’m a technician,” Quinonez said. “I love seeing the result of everyone’s hard work on stage. The audience, hopefully, doesn’t even think about the technicians because they are just lost in the story on stage.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].