Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Front row, from left: Dash Hansen, Loro Loris and Maci Eilers. Back row: Ethan Hansen, Alexis Krieger and Connor Russo.

This time of year, there are many stage productions that are just too fairy tale-ish for anyone above the age of 5.

And others, like kids' dance recitals, are something only their grandparents will love.

But "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical," which wraps up its two-weekend run at 30 by Ninety Theatre in Mandeville this weekend, has a different take on the season. It's a funny, entertaining show made for modern sensibilities and for those from 6 to 60 (and beyond) to enjoy.

It’s the story of the dreaded Herdman kids, six unsupervised siblings who create panic when they crash a Sunday School demanding parts in the Christmas play — mainly because they’d heard there would be free pizza. Otherwise, they'd be dumpster diving or stealing to get food.

But once there, the Herdmans learn for the first time about the Christmas spirit. By the time of the pageant, they’re more into it than the church ladies who are so initially terrified by their presence and than the rest of the town’s kids.

In the end, the Herdmans are seen though different eyes, even though they maintain a good portion of their edge. Want proof? “Die, Herod, die!,” is one of their pageant songs.

When the original play was written in 1971, music was included only for the pageant. (It was also a 1980s TV movie.) The musical version was added two years ago.

This is the first local production of the musical.

The cast consists of six adults and 24 children, ages 6 to 16.

Sherri Hansen plays Grace Bradley, the good-hearted leader of the church ladies who takes over the pageant. Two of Hansen's four real-life sons, Ethan and Dash, play Ralph and Leroy Herdman, respectively.

“If you’ve got boys like I do, it’s not much of a stretch for them to play the Herdman brothers,” she said. “But this is really a great show that will really get you in the Christmas spirit.

“It’s a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be, too. There’s a '60s feel to it with throwback costumes that people are going to enjoy.”

Another local family is part of the show as well.

Stage veteran Ladson Poole plays Bob Bradley, Grace’s ever-patient husband. His wife, Arianne, is one of the church ladies, and son Connor is another Herdman.

“I did this strictly to do something with them at the same time,” Poole said. “I wanted Connor to get more involved in acting and to wrangle some of these kids with their energy and steer them into it.

“But people are really going to enjoy this. This is a heartwarming story with a message in it about giving everybody a shot.”

That, director Dawn Mastascuso said, is the idea.

“It’s a Christmas story, but not overtly, in-your-face religious,” she said. “There are lessons about friendship and what being a family is really all about.

“And then there’s a ton of original songs, along with ones that everybody knows. It’s just a very, very upbeat experience for everybody.”

And you’re guaranteed not to be bored.