Review: Simon Kenton warms audience with ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

Each December, Christmas touches all who celebrate it with an eager, feel-good message of love and kindness. A prime example of the Christmas spirit was recently on display at Simon Kenton High School, where a group of passionate students poured their hearts into a well-executed production of the comedic Christmas favorite, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Adapted from the 1971 young adults’ book written by Barbara Robinson, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” made its stage debut in 1982. The beloved story takes place in a conservative, churchgoing community, where each holiday season marks the performance of the church’s annual Christmas pageant. The pageant always goes according to plan, that is, until one year, when the notorious Herdman family arrives. The Herdmans  wreak havoc on the community with their belligerent behavior, jeopardizing the pageant's survival. But as the fate of the pageant hangs in the balance, Christmas sentiment touches even the Herdmans, leaving a poignant message of love, acceptance and understanding.

From the opening curtain, energy and originality was clearly at the heart and soul of this production. Every actor on stage showed a unique level of creativity in the approach to his or her character. The group never seemed to lack originality, and nearly every moment with a potential for added humor seemed filled. The cast succeeded in providing a production that appropriately suited this particular show.

Of the story’s major characters, the character of Grace Bradley, played by Nicole Ziege, was particularly refreshing, and proved to be the most outstanding of the cast. While some characters lacked in authenticity, Ziege did an exceptional job of forming an engaging and sincere identity for Mrs. Bradley. Additionally, her dialogue seemed to keep the show on track despite sluggish pacing in parts of the show. Destiny Purdue, as the show’s narrator Beth Bradley, added a candid dose of straightforward commentary to the show. From beginning to end both characters remained poised and consistent.

In a show featuring a large ensemble, three notable characters stood out from the rest. The humor of Sean Gardner’s character Bob Bradley served as a solid staple of comedy to the production. While some characters appeared unpleasantly dry from time to time, Gardner’s dryness lent itself well to the character, and periodically prompted laughter from the audience. Another bright spot was Emily Hurt’s character, Edna McCarthy. Hurt developed an original, well-conceived ensemble character, whose line delivery was well received by the audience. Last, but certainly not least, the high flying performance of Jordan Dillon was a boost to the show. Dillon, as the spirited Gladys Herdman, displayed solid stage presence in her character’s wacky antics, invigorating the show with an extra measure of enthusiasm.

The highlight came in the second act, when the “Angel of the Lord” (played by Dillon’s character) made her grand entrance in the pageant suspended in mid-air, swooping on stage and captivating the enthused audience. Thanks to some adept crew members, this side-splitting stunt easily became the most memorable piece of the production. The stage crew had a tall order in transforming the set between scenes so frequently, and consequently often made considerable noise during scene changes. However, the continuation of on-stage action provided ample distraction from the inconvenient background noise.

All things considered, Simon Kenton High School’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” delivered a pleasant performance with tasteful comedy, enthusiasm and a warm message, all in tradition with the show’s Christmas spirit.

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