Anyone who has watched, participated in, or especially worked behind the scenes of a holiday church pageant will view Lakewood Playhouse’s production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” with both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder flashbacks and joyful tears of nostalgia. Director Marty MacKenzie folded the already great script and dashed in some spice from the talented cadre of mainstage actors and the theatre’s children’s program to serve up a buffet of comedy, hijinx and heart-fluttering holiday treats. The gist of the story is that Grace Bradley (MariClaire Schilling) is tasked with putting on the church holiday pageant at the last minute after the regular director Helen Armstrong (Cassie Cahill) lands in the hospital with a broken leg. Toss in the fact that the worst kids in the world, the Herdmans, show up. And they are a package of destruction and mayhem on which Biblical stories are based. But the show must go on, and it does. Like any real-life pageant, all seems lost when the stage lights flip on, but what happens is holiday magic.
The story is tied together through loft-bound narration by Grace’s daughter Beth (Kathryn Dunkelberger). Of course, she anchors the role with punch and vigor (she is my offspring, after all, so you know she is awesome. She’s a Dunkelberger). Add in outlandishly solid performances up and down the cast list, and the show is fun for family and friends or anyone with a soft spot for holiday shows. Standout performances were staged by the gaggle of Herdmans (Alexis Collins, Alex Wrede, Andrew Redford, Tanner Pierce, Nate Johnston and Rachel Wrede.) The set, by Blake York, had hits of church finery that didn’t block the actors having free reign of the thrust stage, which allowed for a particularly hilarious bit involving vaudevillian style antics with flashes of cute vignettes intertwined with full-on campy fun. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 24 at Lakewood Playhouse. More information is available at http://www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.