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This ‘The Best Christmas Pageant’ may be the best yet


Hide your lunch. The Herdmans are back in town. 

The Cape Fear Regional Theater opened its yearly traditional Christmas offering, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!,” over the weekend. This is the 32nd annual production of the show, and it gets better each year. 

“Pageant” opened Saturday to a sold-out show, and Sunday’s matinee quickly sold out, too. 

Over the years, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!” has become a Fayetteville Christmas tradition. One could argue it’s not Christmas in Fayetteville until you see the Herdmans crash the church’s Christmas play. The story, written in 1971 by Barbara Robinson, is exactly what everyone needs to see and hear today. 

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!” was presented by special arrangement with Samuel French and directed by Jennifer Sell.  

The plot

“Who let them in?” 

The play follows the despicable antics of the Herdman family, down-on-their-luck child siblings known for bullying their neighborhood kids. The only place to hide from the Herdmans is at church — that is, until someone makes it known that there are snacks at church. The undesirables show up in time to cast themselves in the church’s Christmas play and the hilarious mayhem begins. (Plus, it’s always fun to see a play within a play.)

The Herdmans, who have never read a Bible or heard of the Christmas story, hijack the church’s play “Herdman style” to the shock and disgust of the parishioners. The Herdmans swear, smoke and steal. Oh yes — and toss baby Jesus around. Church members fear the play is on a fast track for disaster and low attendance. 

But everyone shows up just to see what the Herdmans will do. You’ll laugh and cry on a rollercoaster of emotions while both the Herdmans and church goers learn the heartwarming true meaning of Christmas.  

The cast 

The power behind this production and what makes it so special is that it’s a true community play. The production feels as if all of Fayetteville comes together to celebrate Christmas. 

There are a few professional CFRT actors and faces many theatregoers will know, such as Amber Dawn French who plays Mrs. Bradley; Matthew Stuart Jackson, who plays Mr. Bradley; and Kathy Sullivan Day who plays Mrs. Armstrong, but most of the cast are made of Fayetteville’s children. All three actors played their roles to perfection. 

You’ll be hard pressed to go to your local grocery store and not find someone in the aisle who doesn’t have a child or know someone’s child in this play. Fayetteville is loaded with talent and it’s on display during “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever!” 

CFRT utilizes four different casts for this play — named Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Clove. It was the “Nutmeg” cast I saw in Sunday’s matinee, and they put on quite an impressive performance. I’ve seen the show over the last several years and CFRT has really cranked up their performance in this production.

Standout performances  

When Savannah Canady, who portrayed the oldest sibling, Imogene Herdman, began to cry, she prompted genuine concerns from the audience who wondered if it was real or part of the play. The leather jacket-wearing, cigar-smoking Imogene really made the audience feel the moment when she played the play’s character, Mary.

But it was Bernadette Phillips, who played the youngest sibling, Gladys Herdman, who really gave the play humor and a shot of realism on Sunday. The blonde-haired-pigtailed little terror was cute and menacing at the same time and really gave the performance a heartwarming zing. She was so believable I wondered if someone told her this was a play. She would have fit right in as a “Little Rascal” on “Our Gang.”  

I highly recommend seeing this year’s edition of the show, and can be sure you won’t be disappointed if the other cast are like this one.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!” runs through Dec. 17. Tickets are available online or at the box office.  

Note: Savannah Canady is the writer's daughter.

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Cape Fear Regional Theater, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Fayetteville, play, Christmas, Herdman, church