The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about an obnoxious gang of kids who intend to screw up the local church's production of the Christmas story.
Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Ollie, Claude and Gladys -- known as the Herdsmen gang -- are reluctantly given roles to play, and in doing so, end up intimidating the other kids, as well as the adults.
They steal lunches, bully the nice kids, mouth off to the adults, smoke cigars and generally put a damper on the whole production.
So why would the Academy of Children's Theatre present such a irreverent production -- it opens Dec. 6 -- to the community this holiday season?
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Because those hooligans end up making a remarkable transformation as the Christmas story unfolds. They also learn a valuable life lesson that is sure to warm the hearts of everyone in the audience, said director Janice McIntyre.
"This show is actually a play within a play, with actors portraying kids preparing to take on the traditional roles of shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary and Joseph," she said. "We have attempted to keep the show very much homespun in nature with the actors creating ornaments and paper chains, and the three wise men creating their own versions of crowns."
Now, some might think acting like a juvenile delinquent might be easy, as there's a bit of naughty in us all. But Hannah Damrell, 10, who plays Gladys, said that's not so.
"It's hard to act like a delinquent kid because I am normally happy all the time," Hannah said. "The hardest part is making my face look mean."
Caleb Brown, 12, who plays Leroy, is totally into having the opportunity to misbehave without consequences, he joked.
"It's great to release all that middle school drama (and refocus it) into a mean, fake person," he said. "But it takes a good knowledge of who your character is to be good or bad."
Brenton Nundahl, 15, who plays Ralph, also embraces his role as a bad boy.
"I think the best thing about my character is being so different than the other characters I've portrayed," he said.
As for Sarah Ullman, 15, who plays Beth Bradley, she sees a similarity between her real self and her character.
"I always know the stories and gossip around family and school," she said. "But interacting as Beth with an audience can be hard because I can't play off of somebody else."
Other student actors portraying the Herdsmen gang are Hannah Merwin as Imogene, Daniel Thein as Claude and Milo Stanfield as Ollie with Felix Jacobs as Charlie Bradley in a supporting role.
The adult cast includes Clint Howell as Bob Bradley, Brooke Damrell as Grace Bradley and Ellicia Elliot as Mrs. Armstrong the pageant director.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is set in the 1950s, with set and costumes kept as authentic as possible, McIntyre said.
"Some people may feel they have stepped back in time to their own childhood, as the costumes and props tie into that time period," she said. "The play is funny stuff."
The show runs Dec. 6-7 and 13-14 in the black box theater at the ACT studio at 213 Wellsian Way in Richland. Curtain time is 7 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 7 and 14. Tickets cost $13 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and $6 for ages 12 and younger and are available at the door.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dorioneal