Lessons learned in 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

Aiken Community Playhouse holiday performances begin Dec. 2

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Nobody likes the Herd­man kids. They’re mean. They smoke, steal and lie. They bully their way into the lead roles of the church’s annual Christmas pageant.

Ali McCormick (right), portraying Grace Bradley, talks with Gladys Herdman, played by Annelise Hipps, and the rest of the Herdman clan in The Aiken Community Playhouse show The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Ali McCormick (right), portraying Grace Bradley, talks with Gladys Herdman, played by Annelise Hipps, and the rest of the Herdman clan in The Aiken Community Playhouse show The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

And turn it into The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

“It’s about how everybody, including the kids and adults, are affected by the Christmas story,” said John Lewis. “It’s not a Santa Claus-based thing. It’s based on the Christmas story.”

Lewis is directing the play, which will open Friday, Dec. 2 at the Aiken Community Playhouse.

Lewis describes it as a fun comedy that has been well received in the past.

The six Herdman children run wild while their single mother is busy working two jobs to support them. Most of the children in town like going to church because it’s the one place they aren’t terrorized by these bullies – until the day the Herdmans show up in search of snacks.

Grace Bradley, played by Ali McCormack, finds herself directing the church’s annual Christmas pageant after the usual director breaks her leg. Bradley loses popularity in town by casting the Herdmans in lead roles in the play.

“She’s trying to teach them along the way what Christmas means,” McCormack said.

The Herdmans knew what Christmas was, but they never learned the true meaning of the holiday. Through the course of the play, not only do the Herdmans learn what Christmas really means, but the townspeople learn it in a whole new way.

“(Bradley) also finds out what Christmas means. It’s kind of a learning experience for everybody,” McCormack said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to the entire town.”

McCormack’s two daughters play angels in the pageant choir, and said they are the reason she auditioned for the role.

She had just finished wrapping up work on Chicago and had planned to sit this one out, but her girls wanted to audition and talked her into auditioning as well. The role of Grace Bradley is her largest role yet during her five years with ACP.

Her favorite moment in the play is a scene in which she and Warren Sain, who plays her husband, Bob, are leaving the grocery store. Grace just discovered the entire town is talking about her unfavorably behind her back. She vents her hurt and anger to Bob, who responds very nonchalantly.

In a fit, Grace pushes Bob into a shopping cart.

“That’s kind of fun. He’s probably two inches shorter than I am, which makes it funnier,” McCormack said.

She said the biggest challenge with the production has been the large number of child actors. The play casts 30 children, which McCormack said has been an interesting experience only because of the children’s excitement.

Lewis agreed that it’s a challenge, but said he was blown away by the talent the young actors have demonstrated.

“The kids that I cast are unbelievably funny. They just get it and their timing is wonderful,” he said.

His favorite moment so far was the first night of rehearsal during the first read-through of the script. He sat in a rocking chair onstage and the children sat in a circle on the floor.

“Everybody’s fascinated by (the script),” he said. “They were quiet and didn’t cut up. They wanted to see what was in the play.”

ONSTAGE

WHAT: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 2-3, 9-10, 16-17; 3 p.m. Dec. 11, 17

WHERE: Aiken Community Playhouse, 126 Newberry St. SW;

TICKETS: $20; (803) 648-1438, www.aikencommunityplayhouse.com


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