“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” opening Friday (Nov. 25) at Olympia Family Theater, is about six siblings who wind up starring in a church pageant.
The Herdmans, described in the Barbara Robinson novel on which the play is based as “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” bring chaos, comedy and ultimately depth to the pageant.
The book is a holiday classic, and this is the second time the theater is producing the play, written by Robinson.
In this production, the troublesome fictional family is far from the only one involved. Among the cast and crew are five more sets of relatives.
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Even director Isaac McKenzieSullivan of Tenino has a sibling connection. His brother Noah is the production’s lighting designer.
“He’s my not-so-little little brother,” Isaac said. “He was good enough to take time to help me out with lighting.”
The McKenzieSullivans are used to being one big theatrical family. Isaac is the artistic director of Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre, which produces a musical each summer, and Noah is the technical director there. Their dad, Bob, is the Tenino company’s managing director, and their mom, Eileen — the executive director of Senior Services for South Sound — is the house manager. Other family members have taken onstage roles.
“There’s a parallel between Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre and Olympia Family Theater,” Isaac McKenzieSullivan said. “Both companies are very family oriented, and both companies love getting multiple generations of the families involved.”
Jen Ryle, Olympia Family Theater’s artistic director, has quite a theatrical family. In “Best Christmas Pageant,” her husband, Ted, is playing Mr. Bradley, the pageant director’s husband, and her daughter Mandy is stage manager.
The other families who appear onstage are Robin McPherson and her daughter Catherine Meierbachtol, 9 and a student at Black Lake Elementary School; Angie Hodge and her daughter Whitney, 11, who goes to Washington Middle School; and sisters Hattie and Juniper Hummel-Church. Hattie, 12, goes to Reeves Middle School, and Juniper, 7, attends Olympia Regional Learning Academy.
McKenzieSullivan, making his Family Theater directorial debut, said he’s particularly enjoying the wide age range of the cast, which includes 17 children, ages 7 and older, and eight adults.
“I love working with kids and working with multiple generations, so that learning and teaching happen,” he said. “That’s the biggest joy I get out of directing, and it’s certainly happening in this show.”
Though he’s new to directing at the Family Theater, McKenzieSullivan has been working with the company for the past year, starring as Charlie Brown in last December’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and as Gerald the Elephant in the fall’s “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play.’ ”
He’s a fan of Robinson’s book, he said, so he was excited when the theater asked him to direct this show.
“My mom read the story to us when we were kids, and I’ve always liked it,” he said. “It’s about the holiday spirit getting into people and changing them and always for the better.
“I also like how simply written the characters are,” he said. “The kids in the story are really just being kids.”
Ryle shares McKenzieSullivan’s feelings about the book.
“I still have my paperback Scholastic copy,” she said. “I’ve been reading it every Christmas since I was in second grade.”
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
What: Olympia Family Theater presents its second production of Barbara Robinson’s classic tale of the six ill-behaved Herdman kids, who come to church for snacks and wind up taking over the pageant.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 25) plus Dec. 2, 9 and 16 and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday plus Dec. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18.
Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $19, $16 for students, seniors and military; $13 for 12 and younger. For the Dec. 2 performance, pay what you can, with tickets available only at the box office beginning at noon that day.
Information: 360-570-1638 or olyft.org.