Honestly, what gets a person more in the holiday spirit than bullies, churches on fire and a local weatherman?
The Evergreen Family Theatre hopes the answer is nothing, and will test that theory when it puts on “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” a show based off the popular and very festive book by Barbara Robinson.
“It’s gonna make people laugh and get them into the holiday spirit at the same time,” said Tony Ventrella, a well-known local television sports reporter. He also serves on the Evergreen Family Theatre board and is a former actor himself.
“It’s one of those things where we need all the laughter we can get. All you have to do is look at the news every day and realize that not a lot of people laugh.”
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” tells the story of the Herdman family, a group of six kids who are all bullies and known for terrorizing the neighborhood. Once they find out they can get treats if they go to church and help with the Christmas pageant, the Herdmans take over all the parts in the play and intimidate anybody who stands in their way.
“I think the ‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ is a great story of redemption of the Herdman kids who realize through the process of going through this chaotic rehearsal what Christmas is all about,” said Marsha Stueckle, director and Evergreen Family Theatre board member.
The idea came after Ventrella suited up as Ebenezer Scrooge in last year’s winter show, “A Christmas Carol.” The Evergreen Family Theatre decided to do that show every other year, with different Christmas-themed plays in between. Thanks to a grant that was awarded by the City of Redmond, a Christmas show was once again made possible.
This year the production features a different special guest. KING-5 weatherman Jeff Renner will appear in the Dec. 11 show in the role of the Rev. Hopkins.
“He must be joking,” Renner said in an e-mail when he described his initial reaction to Ventrella’s request to appear in the show. “Tony was a sport years back when we worked together and actually dressed up in scuba gear to do a promotional spot with me … and I think he was a bit less than comfortable. If Tony could do that, I can do this.”
While some might argue he’s on stage every night when he’s broadcast to all of Western Washington, it’s been awhile since Renner has been in a drama production.
“A couple plays in high school,” he said was his last dramatic performance. “That was a very long time ago. We needn’t say how long.”
Ventrella is thrilled that his friend can fill in for his absence this year.
“He’ll be able to play that character pretty well,” Ventrella said. “Jeff’s a serious guy. He’s a scientist. But he can certainly bring some character to the guy. I’m looking forward to seeing the show that night.”
“Tony is a friend,” Renner said. “I had seen him perform in ‘A Christmas Carol’ last December in that company, and [thought] it could be fun. It’s good to stretch yourself and do something totally different from time to time. The audience may consider this a big ‘stretch!’”
Renner joins a cast of about 25 kids ranging from second to eighth grade, with a few adult actors thrown in who have been rehearsing three days a week since the last weekend of September.
“We have a very talented cast,” Stueckle said. “It’s very fun for me as a director to work with a cast that has ideas.”
While Stueckle is preparing her cast for the big show, she enjoys preparing one part of the play in particular.
“There is a scene where one of the church ladies thinks that the church is on fire,” she said, “and in that scene we’ve done some … choreography. When it’s a huge cast scene we choreograph each step so no one gets hurt. Everyone is going somewhere. But to the audience it looks like chaos.”
The first curtain rises the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 26.
“We figured people would be in town during Thanksgiving and might want to get in the spirit early,” Ventrella said.
The show continues every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. through Dec. 11 at the Redwood Family Church on Redmond-Woodinville Road. There are also two Sunday shows on Dec. 5 and 12 at 2 p.m.
General admission tickets are $14, and students and senior citizens can get tickets for a reduced price of $12. Opening night features a special buy one, get one free ticket offer. To order tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.
“During the holidays it’s all too easy to get overscheduled,” Renner said. “Going to a play, leaving behind your cares and having fun is a gift (people) can give to themselves.”
Ventrella, Stueckle and Renner are all excited to showcase the hard work for the public when that first performance gets under way.
“We have a great staff and cast and production team,” Stueckle said. “Everybody’s in it to make it the best Christmas pageant ever!”
David Krueger is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.