By Debbie Hale
Getting into the real spirit of Christmas is easy after experiencing "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. A combined effort of the MainStage and Youth Theatre crews, redemption, the real meaning of Christmas, takes center stage like the bright glow of twinkling lights on holiday trimmings.
Director Chuck Tuttle creates a community extravaganza with this cast of characters ages 5 and up. From the enthusiastic Christmas songs led and sung by the angel choir at the beginning, to the refreshingly joyful curtain call at the end, youthful energy makes this play perfect for kids and adults of all ages.
Written in 1972 by Barbara Robinson, the story introduces the "worst kids in the world," the six Herdmans.
Older Beth Bradley, played by Julie Palmer Maughon, narrates the tale of her mom, Grace Bradley, played by Kristina Montague, as she becomes the director of the church Christmas play after the regular director, Mrs. Armstrong, played by Laura Lindroth, breaks a leg.
Montague does a great job as Grace. Playing the director of the pageant, her exaggerated moves fit perfectly with the gung-ho attitude exemplified by the youthful cast. Montague's daughter, Chapin Montague, and son, Max Montague, execute respective roles as Alice Wendleken and Charlie Bradley with professional ease and flair.
As Bob Bradley, Philip Elkins quite effectively fashions the supportive dad who reluctantly participates after spousal persuasion. Elkins' characterization conjures fond memories.
The cast includes six talented thespians creating the perfect Herdman family. Bennett Caroline Kutchins shows both sides of the notorious Imogene in a very touching interpretation of her character. Taryn Bracher is show-stealing as Gladys, the Angel of the Lord. Other Herdmans are Josh Anderle as Ralph, Nick Maddox as LeRoy, Matthew Wesolowski as Claude and Cannon Hunt as Ollie.
Cheyenne Carpenter makes her CTC debut playing young Beth Bradley. She is very bright in her role and maintains a strong presence on the stage.
Other talented cast members include: Shannon Gann as Mrs. Slocum; Jennifer Johnson as Mrs. Clark; Crystal Kapp as Mrs. Clausing; Meredith Brook as Mrs. McCarthy; Augusta Westhoff as Maxine; Dylan Mullins as Elmer Hopkins; Stuart McGuire as Hobie Hunter; Martin as David; Lexie Grace Askew as Shirley; Beatrice Posey Davis as Juanita; Annabelle Major as Doris; Kara Mullins as Roberta; Cameron Legge as Bob; Caleb Askew as Caleb; and Rachel Kapp as Beverly.
John Echols is outstanding in his musical direction and arrangement. Scott Dunlap wardrobes the cast with his usual perfection. The simplicity of the set, with choreographed moves perfectly timed and lighting accentuating the entertaining cast, makes Chuck Tuttle's production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" a great hit for all ages.