First Stage restores a holiday tradition with “Best Christmas Pageant Ever”
Jeff Schaetzke, an integral part of First Stage's last "Pageant" production, takes the director's chair for this '80s-inspired holiday classic.
Black Friday conjures up images of crushing crowds, manic shoppers, and generally unfriendly behavior. Luckily, First Stage Children’s Theater has your antidote—their uplifting show “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” opens on Friday, November 29, a sure fire way to immerse your family in the holiday spirit.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” began as a book written by Barbara Robinson. It’s the story of a church Christmas pageant and one unruly family called the Herdmans. The churchgoers are horrified when the Herdman kids are cast in the show; the kids are known for cigar smoking, fighting, and curse words. They’ve also never heard the Christmas story before. Yet, the show goes on and, once the Herdman kids get into the holiday spirit, the pageant comes alive with unique twists and clever songs. The church congregation looks past the Herdmans’ rough exteriors and the Herdmans themselves soften in the process.
This is the eighth time that First Stage is producing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
“It really is a wonderful story. It involves a lot of young performers. We have 35 young performers in each cast, so we get to have 70 total in the play. It is a great holiday favorite,” says director Jeff Schaetzke. “The play is very funny. It’s very sweet. It has music. It’s kind of First Stage’s ‘Christmas Carol.’”
Schaetzke was also an integral part of the 2009 production of the show—he played Reverend Hopkins and helped put the music together.
“’The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ is kind of an underdog story and not just about the kids, but about Mrs. Bradley who gets handed this gigantic task to put on the church Christmas pageant. She accepts all of the kids who are there including the famous Herdmans,” says Schaetzke. “The Herdmans are the kids who everybody thinks goof around or make bad choices and nobody really accepts them until Mrs. Bradley says, ‘Why don’t you be in the pageant?’ The Herdmans sign up to be Mary and Joseph, the other churchgoers can’t believe it, and it turns out that the Herdmans are quite wonderful.”
First Stage has put a 1980s spin on this year’s “Pageant.” There’s plenty of bodacious ‘80s costuming as well as rad music from that era.
“As a child of the ‘80s, it’s right up my alley,” says Schaetzke. “We’ve been working on that sound from the ‘80s, whether it be using synthesizers or rock and roll. We’re using the Go Go’s. We’re using The Bangles. The pageant itself has an ‘80s twist to it. The Christmas carol part of the pageant has been fully taken back to the ‘80s. There’s Michael Jackson songss. Audience members will recognize a lot of fun things.”
Schaetzke clearly had the parents in mind when he chose to spin things back a couple of decades. Plenty of little kids in the audience are accompanied by adults who have distinct memories of dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” during their teenage years.
Set designer Sarah Hunt-Frank has worked her magic, creating a church interior with stained-glass windows as well as a playground. With so many actors in the performance, she’s been sure to maintain an open space while incorporating beautiful details.
“This is a professional theater,” says Schaetzke. “Professional actors and designers love to work here.”
So, skip the Black Friday shopping madness and take a chill pill with the totally tubular “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Your whole family will, like, get into the holiday spirit in a gnarly way.
First Stage’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs Nov. 29 to Dec. 29. Tickets can be ordered online or at (414) 267-2961.