‘Christmas Pageant’ surpasses other remounts of classic

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Forget any previous version of the children’s classic, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and rush to secure seats for the new Theatre for Young America’s current production, that runs Nov. 22-Dec. 28.

Barbara Robinson’s classic children’s book adapts, somewhat awkwardly, to live theatre; but rest assured TYA’s Gene Mackey directs the show and paces the short, choppy scenes into a sugar plum confection. By using the wide performance space of City Stage and good use of lighting, the short scenes rapidly change, deflect eyes, and keep the show moving at rocket-pace.

The story of six ruffians invading a church’s stoic Christmas pageant causes all previous participants to find reason to avoid the current production. By doing so, the six town terrors claim the most significant parts in the production, and cause the entire town to wonder how they can possibly perform the Christmas story.

Do not wait to secure seats. Saturday, Nov. 23 opening was a sell-out. Obviously a chance to enjoy live theatre with a wide variance of ages attending, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins filled the seats. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” kicks off the holiday season with a charming story of misfits finding the meaning of Christmas in a simple story about acceptance, inclusion, and coloring outside the lines.

In the story, no one expects the notorious school-yard bullies to behave long enough to partake in a Christmas pageant sponsored by a local church with small town attitudes, old-fashioned beliefs, and a non-inclusive traditions. How dare the worst kids in town want to participate in their honored tradition.

Really strong characters and stage presence by Franci TalamanteWitt, Eric Johansen, L. Roi Hawkins, and Valerie Mackey give substance and balance to the show that revolves around the younger cast. Because the younger cast rotates, favorites cannot be determined, but rest assured, each cast will endear itself to viewers. Viewers will all have a favorite character, be prepared for great performances.

The cast of adults remains consistent throughout the run, but the youth cast does rotate performances and is double cast. The casting is: Franci Talamante-Witt as mother, Eric Johansen as Father; Valerie Mackey as Mrs Armstrong/Mrs. McCarty, L. Roi Hawkins as Reverend Hopkins, Isaac Robinson as Ralph, Zoe English/Risa Norbury as Beth, Garrett Stephens/Liam Witte as Charlie, Lili Condrey/Lydia Novak as Alice, Josie Lenati/Chloe Pennington as Imogene, Kieran Ford/Cole Southard as Leroy, Owen English/Savanna Frost as Claude, Violet Rollins/Olive Witte as Ollie, Marissa Oglesby/Jennie Quarrato as Gladys, Alexandra Pilley as Mrs. Slocum, Chelsea Benner/Ellis Lewis as Maxine, Allia Ford/Piper Routh as Beverly, Jon Weiss as Eugene Slocum.

The crew that creates the on-stage magic is: Gene Mackey, director; Alexandra Pilley, stage manager; Charlie Weitkamp, technical director; Valerie Mackey, costume designer; Zachary Hampton, costumer; Sheryl Bryant, education director; Kylor Greene, lighting designer.

Like all TYA shows, “The Best Christmas Party Ever” runs under one hour and always ends with a Q&A session to involve the audience, answer any questions young viewers have, and introduce themselves so the audience understands the difference between actor and character. And, after the show, the cast awaits in the lobby to say goobye to their audience and pose for some quick forget-me-not photos.

Tickets, dates, times, and more information can be found on the Theatre for Young America’s website.

Theatre for Young America History:Theatre for Young America (TYA) began in 1974 at the Waldo Astoria Dinner Playhouse.  In 1977, the troupe became an independent organization and moved to Overland Park, Kansas, where it performed for 17 years in a converted cinema theatre. During this time the organization grew from 4 productions to 7 or 8 per season, added drama classes, summer workshops and summer productions, and outreach workshops in schools. TYA operated in the Mission Center Mall from 1994 to 2003.

Today TYA performs on the City Stage at Union Station, the Wonderscope Children’s Museum and Avila University. Since our beginning in 1974 we have worked to create each child’s lifelong relationship with theatre. Our ultimate goal, then and now, is to encourage the educational and emotional growth of young people through our arts-based experiences.

To reach this goal TYA has produced over 200 productions, including dozens of new and commissioned plays, plus many of the most acclaimed plays for young audiences by established playwrights. TYA has developed dozens of new plays and musical plays based on classic children’s literature, historical figures and current social issues, such as child sexual abuse, child care, and conflict resolution.

Tags: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” review, Theatre for Young America, City Stage, Union Station, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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