‘Best Christmas Pageant’ both hilarious and heartfelt

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  • The Herdmans in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” are, front to back, Neva Schilling, Kylee Sisson, Fenton Liebe-Cohen, Lavena James, Tristan Shoff and Cole Pickert. (Photo courtesy of Whitefish Theatre Co.)

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    Neva Schilling as Gladys in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” (Photo courtesy of Whitefish Theatre Co.)

  • The Herdmans in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” are, front to back, Neva Schilling, Kylee Sisson, Fenton Liebe-Cohen, Lavena James, Tristan Shoff and Cole Pickert. (Photo courtesy of Whitefish Theatre Co.)

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    Neva Schilling as Gladys in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” (Photo courtesy of Whitefish Theatre Co.)

The Whitefish Theatre Company presents the family classic “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” as its holiday show at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish.

This hilarious and heartfelt play opens with a sneak preview night on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Performances continue on Dec. 7, 8, 14, and 15 at 7:30 p.m., on Dec. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m., and on Dec. 9 and 16 at 4 p.m.

When the six Herdman kids — considered the terror of teachers, parents, and students alike — show up at auditions and manage to snatch the major roles in the holiday show, everyone is convinced that this Christmas pageant, if it is presented at all, will be “the worst Christmas pageant ever.” Will it be a silent night? Will the pageant be a disaster as everyone is expecting? Or will the spirit of the season allow the community to see the pageant — and the Herdman kids — through new eyes? Called “one of the best Christmas stories ever — and certainly one of the funniest,” you will not believe the mayhem and fun when the Herdmans bring a little joyful noise to the holidays.

Director Valeri McGarvey has enjoyed revisiting this fun holiday play which she has worked on several times in the past.

“This play is a combination of hilarity and some very poignant moments,” McGarvey said. “I think the true Christmas story can get ‘sanitized’ in our American culture. Mary and Joseph were refugees, to be honest. It is compelling to see this age-old story through the eyes of some misfits who have never heard the story before. It makes it fresh and relevant to me and I hope it will to our audiences.”

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is the second play that McGarvey has directed for the Whitefish Theatre Company after directing “Miracle on 34th Street” last year. McGarvey is a familiar face in the Flathead Valley theatre scene having directed numerous plays at Flathead High School for 25 years and acted in local productions with the Alpine Theatre Project and Flathead Valley Community College.

“I am so excited and grateful to be back with the WTC team,” she said. “I am discovering how much fun it is to work with an even larger cast of young actors than I had last year. I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I am with the whole cast. They are committed to excellence and we are also having a lot of fun.”

The cast is comprised of 27 actors from around the Flathead Valley. The Herdman kids are played by Cole Pickert, Lavena James, Tristan Shoff, Kylee Sisson, Fenton Liebe-Cohen, and Neva Schilling. Bob Bradley is played by JJ James, Grace Bradley is played by Joy James, Beth Bradley is played by Taylor Gray, Charlie Bradley is played by Badge Busse. Alice is played by Simma Lefcourt, and Maxine is played by Scarlet Burke.

Also contributing to the design of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” are Robbie Moody, Lighting and Sound Designer, Erin Grayce, Stage Manager, and Chelsea Lefcourt, Props Master. The exceptionally detailed costumes are designed by Sarah Bell and her talented cast of dedicated seamstresses who’ve worked tirelessly to make nearly 60 costumes for the show.

“One of my favorite moments in this play is when the character of Imogene finds herself alone in the church sanctuary with the ‘baby Jesus,’” says McGarvey. “She finds within herself a moment of peace and tenderness that is new to her. I am hoping our audiences will leave with a renewed commitment to compassion, empathy, and treating each other with kindness. Even though we don’t all express our faith the same way, we can all use a little more peace and tenderness during the holiday season.”

Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students with reserved seating. Tickets for the sneak preview performance on Dec. 6 are sold only at the door and are $12 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office, 1 Central Ave., Whitefish, or by calling 862-5371. Box office hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and one hour before performance times. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.whitefishtheatreco.org.

The show is sponsored by the Whitefish Credit Union. The sponsors for the student outreach performance are NXGEN and Frame of Reference Fine Art.

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