In a shift from its usual Christmas offering, the Conservatory Theatre Company at Point Park University has chosen to play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical for its holiday show. It’s Christmas, all right – in more ways that one. Pageant is a retelling of a 1971 children’s book that was published by Harper & Row. With this source material, The Conservatory Theatre Company has given us a lovely little show that’s like a reimagined It’s a Wonderful Life for a contemporary America where everybody is willing and ready to acknowledge that some high schoolers smoke, drink, and shoplift.
Pageant is also a musical and has something like a dozen and a half songs throughout the performance. While the songs manage to convey simple emotions akin to something out of the Cole Porter songbook, the songs do not congeal with the rest of the performance and the audience is often left waiting for the songs to end so that the narrative can continue. This is not to say that the music in Pageant is anywhere near bad or unenjoyable, it’s just that the audience will not find itself humming or tapping along to the melody.
Grace Bradley (Nora Krupp) is assigned with the duty of overseeing the local Christmas pageant when the pageant’s original leader, Helen Armstrong (Shannon Felletter) falls and breaks her leg. The announcement for pageant auditions occurs on the day that the Herdmans happen to be at the church. The Herdmans are six rough and tumble children who are the bad eggs in the community who lie, steal, smoke, and hurt other kids. The Herdmans manage to bully their way their way into each of starring roles in the year’s Christmas pageant.
From this point in the play forward, a master of dramaturgy is not required to determine how this show will conclude. But even if we are certain of how Pageant will end, following the play to its inevitable conclusion is immensely enjoyable. There are several laugh out loud moments that appear at random junctures throughout the play. The actors that play the Herdmans do a particularly skillful job of creating a humorous and riotous crowd of delinquents. The rest of the actors in this play are competent, but the Herdmans carry the comedic tone and thematic message.
Pageant is a very quick musical. I’m tempted to call the piece a play because the story is what stuck with me the most and what I will remember. I’m not aware of another unique and memorable Christmas musical or play that’s being performed in Pittsburgh this holiday season. The play is also without an intermission and if my less than stellar timing abilities then Pageant has a running time of a little over an hour.
The play’s scene design by Tucker Topel is particularly noteworthy. Topel really manages to maximize the stage by using a simple theatrical techniques including sliding walls to effectively convey the three or four main locations of the play. There are also a couple of very smart choices for character entrances in the play. So, at the end of the day, you might not fall in love with the music in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever but it’s a very embraceable show that I would recommend seeing if you’re in need of a good Christmas performance this year.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Rauh Theatre through December 18th. For tickets and more information, click here.
Special thanks to Point Park University for complimentary press tickets.