'The Worst Kids in the World' perform 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever'

The Aloha Theatre welcomes to the stage the Herdman Family who will give Scrooge a run for his money this holiday season. The Aloha Performing Arts Company’s production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” runs through Dec. 22.

Adapted for the stage by Barbara Robinson from her popular 1972 novel, the play tells the story of the horrible Herdman children and how they relentlessly bully their classmates then take over the church’s annual Christmas pageant despite having never read the Bible or learned the Christmas story. Roxanne Fox directs this 1982 holiday classic being performed at the theater in Kainaliu.

“One of the best things about the show is that it’s completely intergenerational. The cast ranges from age 5 to 75. It’s also a very brief show, so it’s a great show to bring children to. It’s a full story with intermission, but only runs about an hour and 15 minutes so you can still get the kids home for bedtime while also giving them the experience of live theater,” said Fox, who is the adviser for the Aloha Teen Theatre and teaches theater at Hualalai Academy.

In the beginning of the novel that inspired the play, the narrator gives the history of the Herdman clan who are described as cigar smoking, thieving, pyromaniacs who intimidate their classmates and “were headed straight for hell.”

The pageant’s director, Grace Bradley (Jana Powell), gets saddled with the job of reforming these perceived hellions into a believable interpretation of the nativity story. To Grace’s surprise, Imogene Herdman (Madison Vetter), one of the older siblings, wants to play the role of Mary and Ralph Herdman (Hope Boyed) will play Joseph.

While the show is funny and clever, there’s a deeper meaning to the story that recalls much of the materialism and economic disparity of the 1980s, including society’s increasingly judgmental attitudes toward the less fortunate.

Despite their snarky attitudes and naughty behavior, the Herdman kids aren’t really mean. They’re frightened and unhappy at being ostracized by their community. They’re not evil rug rats who need discipline, but vulnerable children who need love, and someone to believe in them.

“I think the moral of the story is that no matter how people look on the outside there’s always some good inside them, it just takes the right people to bring it out,” said Vetter. “Imogene doesn’t like most peopl. It’s either her way or the highway. Imogene plays Mary and throughout the story she becomes this girl who everyone comes to love. Her parents probably aren’t very good parents and she becomes so emotional that she can finally give baby Jesus what he deserves.”

The pageant’s rehearsals are frequently disastrous. So much so, that when the Herdmans hear the Christmas story for the first time, they vow to seek revenge on Herod. The community is so convinced that the show will be a disaster that the Christmas Eve performance is packed with an audience hoping to see what mayhem may ensue. What unfolds is a humorous, moving production of the true meaning of Christmas.

Returning to the Aloha Theatrer for this production is longtime Big Island resident and actor Dick Hershberger who plays the Rev. Hopkins.

“It’s really a pleasure to be back at the Aloha Theatre,” Hershberger said. “I haven’t done a main stage play there in three years and it’s my theatrical home. I love working there. I love the audience and I love the people I get to work with. It’s a pleasure having the opportunity to work for Roxanne. She is a very talented young woman and has the ability to bring out the best in everyone around her.”

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” nudges the audience to reconsider the traditional Christmas story and see the human side of the nativity — to see a mother and father with a newborn baby who are far from home and only have each other. Through a group of misbehaving, rough kids, the audience is able to feel Joseph and Mary’s sense of loneliness and fear; to sense their humanity.

The show is also a reflection of how people are often misjudged, and when “the worst kids in the whole history of the world” show their vulnerability and open up their hearts, it’s a performance that moves even the most curmodgeoned of audience members.

“It’s a wonderful retelling of the Christmas story,” Hershberger said. “Having the opportunity to have it told one more time by a group of children gives the audience a fresh outlook on what the whole Christmas season is all about.”

The cast features Matthew Haider, Jana Powell, Riley Anne Newton and Kai Bram as the Bradley family, and as the Herdman family Vetter, Robert J. Vetter 3rd, Hope Boyd, Lauren Gabbe, Vincent Hicks and Dominic Altamirano. Assorted angels and shepherds are played by Alexa Altamirano, Mehana Grace Guy, Jayci Kaimiola, Jade Onaka, Madison Bram, Eloisa De Farias, Michelle Axelson, Olivia Loney, Zea May Olson Levine, Patrick Riehle, Annalisse Nolder and Pomai and Dylan Magoon-Haider. Meddling church ladies are played by Karen Barry, Paula Cornwell, Thelina O’Daniel, Ann Rudd, Gemma Palleschi and Kristen Hubbs. The long suffering Rev. Hopkins is played by Hershberger, and the pageant is narrated by Kristen Cole. Robin Noyes is assistant director; Toni Reynolds and Joel Michelson, stage managers; producers are Annabelle Treacy and Karen Barry; and designers include Gerald Lucena, set; Kerry Matsumoto and Rachel Landsdale, props; Cameron Bailey-Bram, house manager; Miguel Montez, sound; boB Gage, lighting; Paula Cornwell, costumes; and Karen Barry, vocal director.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” ultimately challenges everyone’s traditional notion of Christmas. A show for all ages, it has become a holiday family tradition that’s not to be missed.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will be performed at the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20, $17 and $10, and are available by phone during weekday business hours at 322-9924, online at alohatheatre.com, or at the theater box office beginning one hour prior to curtain time. For more information, call 322-9924.