Review: 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' @ Knightsbridge Theatre
An ample helping of holiday warmth infuses "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Barbara Robinson's stage adaptation of her sweetly raucous children's book receives a spiky, appealing reading at Knightsbridge Theatre.
Since its 1972 publication and 1983 TV version, "Pageant" has become a regional favorite, understandably so. This tale of an annual Christmas show hijacked by the worst welfare family in town isn't exactly subtle, but its mix of satire and sentiment is quite well-observed.
As narrated by Beth Bradley (Emily Abbot), the pageant is one time that the local children can escape the Herdmans, a sextet of unholy terrors. Perhaps Charlie (Tristan Price), Beth's brother, puts it best: "Sweet hour of prayer/Sweet hour of prayer/Because there are no Herdmans there."
This year, chaos descends after the director breaks her foot. The gossipy church ladies (Tamera O'Hara, Cynthia Watson and Hannah Knight) maneuver Grace (Allana Barton), Beth and Charlie's mom, into overseeing the event, despite the antipathy of husband Bob (Travis Terry).
She hasn't bargained on the Herdmans, who muscle themselves into starring roles, smoke cigars in the bathroom, think "Shazam!" is a proper angelic greeting, and worse. Catastrophe seems inevitable, until Christmas Eve, when the meaning of the season emerges in the most unexpected and heartfelt way.
If director Vicki Conrad's staging, which adds parochial elements and rap fillips to Robinson's scenario, is a bit unkempt around the edges, that's only appropriate. Her large, multi-age cast could not be more eager or rambunctious. Adam Duglolecki and Jessica Stone's oldest bullies spearhead an avid herd of Herdmans, and the would-be "Sister Act" nuns led by Julie Sanchez are very funny. "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" may not be particularly polished or profound, but it still lives up to its title.
-- David C. Nichols
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," Knightsbridge Theatre L.A., 1944 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 23. $25. (323) 667-0955. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
Photo: From left: Emily Abbott, Travis Terry, Tristan Price and Allana Barton. Credit: John Dlugolecki