It really is ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

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That’s the ticket

What: Winters Theatre Company production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 7

Where: Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Ave.

Tickets: $12 general, $6 for seniors and children 12 and under; www.winterstheatre.org or 530-795-4614

Can you die of cute overload? Well, if the Winters Theatre Company’s production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” doesn’t trigger it, probably not.

Seriously — if I could have died from cuteness, I would be writing my obituary right now, not a theater review.

This is simply the sweetest play ever. From youngsters to oldsters, tender-hearted to tough guy, it will leave you ready for the holidays and in an entirely better mood than you were in when you walked in the door — even if you were already feeling pretty fine.

The play is delightfully well-written, thanks to crisp, clean prose by Barbara Robinson. As for the directing, Anita Ahuja deserves some sort of award just for taking on a play with a huge cast that includes 20 children, many of whom are quite young.

Most people would run screaming from the room at the mere thought of trying to organize just the rehearsals, let alone the productions themselves, with all those kids. Ahuja didn’t merely ride herd on these kids — she coaxed truly charming and polished performances from all of them. I think she may be The Child Whisperer.

Of special mention is Rylie Schroeder, in one of the lead roles as Beth Bradley, who also serves as the narrator of the play. Her performance, even on opening night, was flawless. Another notable performance was delivered by Alex Harris, in the role of Alice, who must contend with the “horrible” Gladys Herdman, played by Mikenzie Hapworth Eldridge.

Every actor in the play — young and not so young — was giving it his or her all, but whenever Gladys bursts onto the stage, stomping and blowing bubbles, you know where everyone in the audience was looking — and smiling.

Gladys is one of the Herdmans, five shabby kids from the wrong side of the tracks who manage to get included in the annual Christmas pageant, even though they’re mostly there for the snacks — thanks to Beth’s brother Charlie, played by the adorable Sam Petersen, who tips them off that there are plenty of sweets to be had at Sunday School.

Gladys lands the role of Mary, much to the exasperation of prim and proper Rose, who was sure the part was perpetually hers.
Does the performance blow up in their faces? Quite the contrary, as the pageant director is Ahuja, the actual director of the play. And what about that pageant — are those kids acting? Or are they just being themselves? It’s hard to tell — it’s just that authentic. Every single one is just precious, the songs are familiar and sweet, and when an angel’s halo goes bouncing across the floor … was that real, or was it in the script?
This is truly a “don’t miss” performance, particularly if you’re struggling to get into the holiday spirit. By the time they sang “We Need a Little Christmas,” I thought, “It’s official. It’s Christmas!”

You will laugh, you’ll be entertained, and unless you have heart like the Grinch, you’ll probably dab tears here and there — not sad tears, but the kind when your heart is touched … the kind that make your eyes leak a little when you think no one is looking.

The play is relatively short, so to give you your money’s worth, the actors have a visit with Santa afterwards, complete with Christmas letters and sassy banter. Following this is a mini-singing competition with four cast members — Jim Hewlett, Alex Harris, Christian Duran and Alexis Velasquez — performing songs ranging from light-hearted to heartfelt. Who wins? You do — just for attending!
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” continues through Dec. 7, with 8 p.m. performances on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays at the Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Ave. Tickets are $12 general admission, $6 for seniors and children 12 and under.
Purchase tickets online at www.winterstheatre.org or call 530-795-4614.

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