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Life's rich pageant

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WOS presents The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

WINTERPORT What happens when the worst kids in town wind up taking over the annual Christmas pageant?

Why, 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.'

Winterport Open Stage is presenting the stage version of Barbara Robinson's beloved 1971 novel of the same name at the Samuel L. Wagner Middle School in Winterport. Directed by Jenny Hart, the production is running through Dec. 13.

Beth Bradley (Autumn Hobbs) is a pretty typical kid. She lives with her mother (Colette Sabbagh) and father (Reed Farrar) and little brother Charlie (Kjell Vikburg). She's got good friends and enjoys school. In fact, there's really only one big obstacle in her life but it's a doozie.

The Herdmans Ralph (Matthew Southard), Imogene (Sara Reynolds), Leroy (Caleb March), Claude (Calvin Curtis), Ollie (Chloe Hart) and Gladys (Rachel Palmer) are just about the worst kids you can imagine. They curse and steal and smoke and bully the other children and are just generally naughty. They make school tough for just about everyone.

The only safe haven is Sunday School, the one place where kids can escape the ever-looming presence of one or more Herdmans. That is, until Charlie spills the beans leading to the Herdmans invading Sunday School as well.

But it gets worse.

It seems that due to an accident, longtime Christmas pageant director Mrs. Armstrong (Teresa Curtis) will be unable to fulfill her duties. Beth's mom gets enlisted to take over, and since the Herdmans have taken over Sunday School, well you can see where this is going.

Before you know it, the Herdmans are all over the pageant, occupying every role of significance; Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, the Angel of the Lord all Herdmans. The kids are leery and the adults are aghast what horrors might the wild Herdmans wreak upon this classic tale of Christmas?

The answer might surprise you.

A lot of people of a certain age might well remember reading this book in their younger days and have fond memories of it I know I'm one of them. So seeing this funny and sweet story brought to life onstage is a real treat.

As you might expect, the kids are delightful across the board. Hobbs serves as our narrator, doing a great job of capturing the spirit of the story. Vikburg is all energy and smiles as little brother Charlie. The rest of the kids Gracie Farrar, Mayako Brown, Jerdon Keisman, Rebecca Siemerling, Samanthat Siemerling and Abby March do good work in bringing the world to life.

And the Herdmans oh, the Herdmans. They're all wonderful in their sketchiness the perfect embodiment of bad kids. They shuffle and grumble their way across the stage, all while managing to be endearing despite their obvious flaws. They all have their individual moments, of course, but they are at their best as a unit, presenting a united front against any and all comers and woe be to any kid who crosses them, because if you're up against one Herdman, you're up against them all.

As for the adults, Sabbagh and Farrar are great as Beth and Charlie's parents and Curtis strikes just the right note of nuttiness as Mrs. Armstrong. Stephanie Vikberg, Cassy Palmer, Anne Tatgenhorst and Jim Tatgenhorst are just present enough, reminding us that even in a kid-centric story, the grown-ups are always there even if they aren't always right.

'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' is a short show, running at just about an hour, but director Hart and company manage to pack a lot of storytelling into that relatively brief time. And while the show as a whole is certainly funny, the highlight is absolutely the pageant itself, a pitch-perfect rendering of the barely-contained chaos inherent to any show featuring children.

This might not be the most complex piece of theater that you'll ever see, but that's OK the massive amount of heart, soul and holiday spirit visible on the stage more than compensates for narrative simplicity. In the end, 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' delivers precisely what it promises the best Christmas pageant ever.

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