Kent County Theatre Guild stages ‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

The Kent County Theatre Guild presents "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" starting Dec. 2 for two weekends. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Kent County Theatre Guild presents “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” starting Dec. 2 for two weekends. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Kent County Theatre Guild is bringing a popular holiday book to life with its production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” with a cast of both children and adults.

“The main kids, the Herdmans, they are the worst. Really, the worst kind of kids,” said Josiah Rich, who plays the eldest of the Herdman children, Ralph.

The story centers on the six Herdman children crashing a local church’s annual Christmas pageant.

“In the book, the pageant is directed by the same woman every year. She has the play performed the same way each year and all the town’s kids have the same parts every year,” Josiah said. “But this one year, the director gets injured so a replacement named Grace steps in.”

Grace takes over the directing position around the same time the Herdman kids, who have never been to the town’s church before, show up after learning the church offers free snacks at its services.

“The Herdmans, they just show up at church one day, and take all the lead roles mainly by intimidating people and everyone thinks the show’s going to be a huge disaster,” said Shelby Melvin, playing Imogene Herdman.

Shelby Melvin and Josiah Rich as Imogene and Ralph Herdman.

Shelby Melvin and Josiah Rich as Imogene and Ralph Herdman.

Directing the actual play is Children’s Theatre Inc. veteran Sharon Crossen.

“I fell in love with this lighthearted story back in the 70s. In the 80s, I enjoyed the movie starring Loretta Swit from ‘MASH’,” she said.

“When The Children’s Theatre asked me to direct a show for them in 2003, I chose my favorite Christmas story, which I did with 55 children playing all the roles. So, when the Kent County Theatre Guild announced it needed a guest director, I thought it would be nice to direct the same show with children and adults.”

For the young actors playing the Herdman family, their characters are in sharp contrast to their real-world personas.

“It’s actually my first play and I like it because I get to be all big and powerful and I’m not

The children's choir practices during rehearsal.

The children’s choir practices during rehearsal.

really like that,” said Tryston Bellon who plays Claude.

“But I wanted to do the play because it’s something new for me and other people in my family have acted so this is a good chance for them to see that I can act too.”

Abigal Peppard plays Tryston’s on-stage sister, Gladys.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is her first play too. And at 8 years old, she’s one of the youngest members of the cast.”

“My sisters have been in two plays and I went to both and was really impressed. I wanted to be like her,” she said. “I’m really good in school but I wanted to do something else I can also be really good at and that lets me use my imagination too.”

Spencer Young is getting to use his imagination too. As another first-timer, he’s playing a character who’s dreading being in the Christmas pageant.

Adult cast members include, from left, Laini Bernard as Edna McCarthy,  Linda Hyler as Irma Slocum, Annica Campbell as Mrs. Clausing and Erin Rich as Mrs. Reverend Hopkins.

Adult cast members include, from left, Laini Bernard as Edna McCarthy, Linda Hyler as Irma Slocum, Annica Campbell as Mrs. Clausing and Erin Rich as Mrs. Reverend Hopkins.

“He tries to make excuses to get out of the pageant but he ends up getting stuck doing it in the end,” Spencer said.

“But in real life, I really wanted to do the play. I came to the first rehearsal really nervous and my stomach was really bothering me and I felt kind of sick but I ended up learning my lines in about two weeks and I’m not nervous now.”

Although having so many kids – more than 20 – is very unusual at the Guild, Ms. Crossen is no stranger to working with young people. The former director of the Children’s Theatre put her name in to be a guest director at the Guild and the play of choice was obvious.

“The book came out in the 70s and I read it and thought was a really fun read and I was teaching middle school and the kids loved it too,” she said.

In the initial run, there were more than 50 kids performing, and even the adults in the show were played by children.

“We had a lot bigger stage so there was the opportunity for a bigger cast, but I think this size is

Shelby Melvin as Imogene Herdman, Landon Lewicki as Leroy Herdman, Josiah Rich as Ralph Herdman, Tryston Bellon as Claude Herdman, Avery Hess as Ollie Herdman and Abby Peppard as Gladys Herdman

Shelby Melvin as Imogene Herdman, Landon Lewicki as Leroy Herdman, Josiah Rich as Ralph Herdman, Tryston Bellon as Claude Herdman, Avery Hess as Ollie Herdman and Abby Peppard as Gladys Herdman

just perfect,” she said. “There are no small parts in this show.”

No matter the size or age of the cast, the tale of the story remains the same – a rag-tag group of kids join together with their community to realize the true meaning of Christmas.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” takes the stage at the Patchwork Playhouse at 8 p.m. on Dec. 2, 3, 9 and 10 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 4 and 11. The Playhouse is at 140 E. Roosevelt Ave. in Dover.

Tickets are available online at kctg.org or at the door. Prices are $10 for children 12 and under, $16 for seniors, military and students and $18 for adults.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

From left, Melissa Brenner as Mother, Logan Babenko as Charlie Bradley, Zoe Edelman as Beth Bradley and Bob Barto as Father.

From left, Melissa Brenner as Mother, Logan Babenko as Charlie Bradley, Zoe Edelman as Beth Bradley and Bob Barto as Father.

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