A fun, new musical adaptation of an audience favorite comes to First Stage this holiday season. Created by the talented husband/wife team of Jahnna Beecham (Playwright/Lyricist) and Malcolm Hillgartner (Composer/Lyricist) and based on the play by Barbara Robinson, THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL is filled with catchy,'60s-inspired original music and a delightful story that both young and old will enjoy. The horrible Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. The entire town panics when these rowdy six siblings are cast in the church's annual Christmas pageant. It's up to good-hearted Mrs. Bradley to help the Herdmans - and the rest of the town - discover the true meaning of Christmas before it's too late. Silent night? Not a chance, but sometimes a little joyful noise is just right for Christmas. Sponsored by Associated Bank and Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL runs November 23 - December 26, 2018 at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at Performance runtime is approximately 90 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 4 - 14+.

Director and First Stage Alumni Molly Rhode has had a long association with THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, having played Mindy the narrator in the 1990 version, been the tech intern for the 1992 staging of the play and choreographing both the 2003 and 2009 versions. When asked about directing THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL this season she said, "I'm excited to work on a new adaptation of this story that I love so much! I'm very impressed with this new version and am eager to share the show's message with a new generation of young actors and audience. I've always found this story compelling because of its message of compassion, empathy, inclusion and the power of community. These are critical life skills; and we all need to be reminded of their value. It's a joy and an honor to work on this material with this group of young people."

Added Artistic Director Jeff Frank, "We are so thrilled to have Molly back with us to direct this year's holiday production! Her long association with First Stage as a Theater Academy member and Young Performer, as well as her intimate knowledge of the production as both a performer and choreographer, makes her uniquely qualified to direct this year's new musical adaptation of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER."


Jahnna Beecham (Playwright/Lyricist) and Malcolm Hillgartner (Composer/Lyricist) met while acting at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, were married onstage at the Empty Space Theatre in Seattle and have built a life together in the arts. Beecham and Hillgartner have worn many hats as actors, directors, authors, producers, composers, audio book narrators and playwrights. Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Cincinnati Playhouse and others have all produced Beecham and Hillgartner's musicals, which include CHAPS!, DOGPARK, HOLMES AND WATSON SAVE THE EMPIRE, FIRE AND ICE and THEY CAME FROM WAY OUT THERE. Under the pen name Jahnna N. Malcolm, the duo has written 130 novels for juveniles and young adults including Simon & Schuster's Love Letters, Bantam's Hart and Soul, Scholastic's Scared Stiff and the very popular series, The Jewel Kingdom. Beecham and Hillgartner produced, scripted-and Beecham directed-The Ruby Princess Runs Away, which won Best Picture at the 2001 Burbank International Children's Film Festival. Beecham and Hillgartner have also written weekly columns for Sesame Street Parents magazine, computer games for Trilobyte/Virgin Games and award-winning learning programs for Hooked on Phonics. Beecham's most recent projects include Editing National Geographic's Science Encyclopedia for 8-to-12-year olds, and co-writing and editing the soon-to-be released Living With Dying: A Complete Guide for Caregivers. Hillgartner is an award-winning narrator of nearly 200 audiobooks. This writing team lives in Ashland, Oregon where they raised their two children, Dash and Skye. They are currently working on a musical adaptation of Ann. M. Martin and Laura Godwin's children's book, The Doll People, about two 8-year-old dolls who escape their dollhouses and go on a very big adventure.

Molly Rhode (Director) is a Wisconsin-grown actor/director/choreographer, and much of her artistic education took place at First Stage. She has a long history with THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, wearing many hats in four separate productions going back to 1990. She is a very proud former Young Performer and is indebted to the many mentors that she met in the Todd Wehr Theater. Her recent directing credits include: GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre); ANNIE, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and LES MISERABLES (Skylight Music Theatre); THE AMERICAN GIRL REVUE (Children's Theater of Madison); WINDJAMMERS DOCTOR, DOCTORand DAIRY HEIRS (Northern Sky Theater) and MISS NELSON IS MISSING, ANATOLE and JUST A LITTLE CRITTER MUSICAL (First Stage). Molly is the Associate Artistic Director at Northern Sky Theater and focuses on the development of new works. Watch for Molly this winter as Mrs. Wormwood in Roald Dahl's MATILDA The Musicalat First Stage.

Jeff Schaetzke (Music Director/Director of Artistic Operations) has a long history directing, teaching, music directing and acting with First Stage that dates back to playing Romeo in 1996. Most recently, Jeff helped develop and direct the world premiere of SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN THE MUSICAL. Other First Stage favorites include: LOVABYE DRAGON; RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL, ELLA ENCHANTED; BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL; THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER; BIG FISH (having also appeared as Edward Bloom); BIG, THE MUSICAL; MISS NELSON IS MISSING! and many others. Jeff also helps lead the Young Company trip to American Players Theatre. A lifelong Milwaukeean, Jeff has enjoyed working with many Milwaukee theaters including recently playing Father in Skylight Music Theatre's production of VIOLET. Jeff has also directed music for Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Skylight Music Theatre, Carroll University, UWM and Marquette University. Other credits: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's THE DALY NEWS, two seasons at American Players Theatre and a 20-year relationship at Dominican High School. Jeff is a 2014 inductee into the Wisconsin Theatre Directors Hall of Fame. He is a proud graduate of North Central College and the Professional Theatre Training Program at UW-Milwaukee.


Bree Beelow (Betty) is thrilled to be returning to First Stage! She was last seen as Lucinda in ELLA ENCHANTED. Other professional credits include HOLES, BIG FISH and SHREK THE MUSICAL (First Stage); THE TAMING (Next Act Theatre) and MARRIED ALIVE and HANDS ON A HARDBODY (William's Street Repertory). Bree is a graduate from Carthage College with a B.A. in Musical Theatre and Theatre Performance.

Cynthia Cobb (Connie) is excited to return for this wonderful production after being seen at First Stage as Glinda in THE WIZ last season. She is a proud member of Actor's Equity Association. Credits include: PORGY AND BESS (Annie); AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' (Charlaine and Armelia); SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ (B.J.); TINTYPES (Susannah); BLUES IN THE NIGHT (the Lady) and THE ALL NIGHT STRUT (Woman 2), all at Skylight Music Theatre. Other favorites: CAROUSEL as Carrie (Candlelight Dinner Playhouse); DO BLACK PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP as Mary (Drury Lane Theatre); ELMER GANTRY as Epatha (Marriott Theatre at Lincolnshire); COWGIRLS as Lee (Northlight Theatre) and SHOWBOAT as Queenie (Gateway Playhouse).

Jonathan Gillard Daly (Reverend Hopkins) returns to First Stage where he last appeared as Edward Bloom in BIG FISH. His original play, TO THE PROMISED LAND, had its first production at First Stage in 2013. Jon is a native Milwaukeean who returned to his hometown 20 years ago and has worked at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre, In Tandem Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks. He and his wife Gale have two children, Sam and Emily.

Lachrisa Grandberry (Helen Armstrong) is ecstatic to return to the Todd Wehr Theater, where she's previously been seen in JUNIE B. JONESIS NOT A CROOK and WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE. Other credits include: DAIRY HEIRS (Northern Sky Theater); LINES (Theatre Lila); EXIT STRATEGY (Forward Theatre); ANNIE (Skylight Music Theatre); MADAGASCAR THE MUSICAL and CHARLOTTE'S WEB (Children's Theater Madison); BLACK NATIVITY (Black Arts MKE) and HAIRSPRAY (CUW), among others. Lachrisa is an alumna of Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Laura Gordon (Luanne) is a Milwaukee-based actor and director and is making her First Stage debut. Her work has been seen at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks, Next Act Theatre, Forward Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Baltimore Center Stage, among others. Favorite roles include the Stage Manager in OUR TOWN, Margie in GOOD PEOPLE and Linda Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN. A member of SDC and Actor's Equity Association, she received her MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa. She is a Milwaukee Rep Associate Artist and a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow.

Karen Estrada (Grace Bradley) was cast as Imogene in the 1992 production of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER. She had such a wonderful time, she has never stopped acting since and has found her way back to First Stage again and again. She has been in many First Stage productions since 1992, most recently THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR SHOW and THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE. Other Milwaukee theater credits include: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre, In Tandem Theatre, Renaissance Theaterworks, Skylight Music Theatre and Milwaukee Opera Theatre. Karen is a proud three-time alumna of Disney on Classicin Japan and Taiwan. She has taught at many schools of theater including First Stage, MITY, Waukesha Civic and Next Act Theatre's Next Actors program.

Chase Stoeger (Bob Bradley) is excited to return to First Stage this winter and to share the stage with his lovely daughter, Silvia! He was last seen in LOVABYE DRAGON as the Troubadour. Other roles at First Stage include: Dad Critter in JUST A LITTLE CRITTER MUSICAL, Tavo in U: BUG ME! and Wickersham Brother in SEUSSICAL. Chase just finished his 12th season in Door County with Northern Sky Theater, where he has performed in over a dozen world premieres. He has also been seen at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre, In Tandem Theater and Door Shakespeare. Look for him this spring in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of Ben Butler as Lt. Kelly.

Francesca Steitz (Understudy for Ms. Cobb, Ms. Grandberry and Ms. Gordon) is a Theater Arts major from Carroll University with a lifelong love of acting. She has been in over 35 theatrical productions. Her favorite roles include Tracy in HAIRSPRAY and the mother in NEXT TO NORMAL.

Carrie Gray (Understudy for Ms. Beelow and Ms. Estrada) is making her First Stage debut! She lives with her family in Wauwatosa and has performed with many Milwaukee area theater companies, including Skylight Music Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, All In Productions, Sunset Playhouse and Greendale Community Theatre. Favorite past roles include The Baker's Wife in INTO THE WOODS (Sunset Playhouse) and Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL (All In Productions).

Logan Milway (Understudy for Mr. Daly and Mr. Stoeger) returns to First Stage with this production. Past credits include THE PILLOWMAN (The Constructivists); THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL and TARTUFFE (SummerStage of Delafield); MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Optimist Theatre); SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN (First Stage); WAIT UNTIL DARK (Waukesha Civic Theatre); THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (Bard & Bourbon) and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (Cardinal Stritch with Arts @ Large). Logan is a graduate of Carthage College with a BFA in Theater (Directing) and Communications. He also works as a Teaching Artist and Assistant House Manager with First Stage.

The adult actor cast of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL includes: Bree Beelow, Member of Actor's Equity Association, as Betty; Cynthia Cobb, Member of Actor's Equity Association, as Connie; Jonathan Gillard Daly, Member of Actor's Equity Association, as Reverend Hopkins; Lachrisa Grandberry, Member of Actor's Equity Association, as Helen Armstrong; Laura Gordon, Member of Actor's Equity Association, as Luanne; Karen Estrada as Grace Bradley; Chase Stoeger as Bob Bradley; Francesca Steitz as Understudy for Ms. Cobb, Ms. Grandberry and Ms. Gordon; Carrie Gray as Understudy for Ms. Beelow and Ms. Estrada and Logan Milway as Understudy for Mr. Daly and Mr. Stoeger.

Young performer roles are double cast. Young Performers in the Holly Cast include: Liam Jeninga (from Delavan) as Ralph Herdman; Isabella Hansen (from Brookfield) as Imogene Herdman; Iker Velasco (from Milwaukee) as Leroy Herdman; Benjamin Nowacek (from Wauwatosa) as Claude Herdman; John Daniels IV (from Mequon) as Ollie Herdman; Lina Singh (from Bayside) as Gladys Herdman; Ryann Schulz (from Wauwatosa) as Beth; Miranda Cecsarini (from Whitefish Bay) as Alice; Sanaa Harper (from Milwaukee) as Ivy; Abram Nelson (from Whitefish Bay) as Charlie; Zachary Nowacek (from Wauwatosa) as Elmer; Edward Owczarski (from Milwaukee) as Teddy; Adelaide Schaetzke (from Whitefish Bay) as Ensemble; Ailie Synder (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Amalia Cecsarini (from Whitefish Bay) as Ensemble; Sydney McElroy (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Shawn Parish (from Glendale) as Ensemble; Layton Lal (from Whitefish Bay) as Ensemble; Zoah Hirano (from Shorewood) as Ensemble Sheep; Marguerite Van Slyke (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble Sheep; Sophia Ruddock (from Glendale) as Ensemble Sheep and Maryanna Esten (from Cedarburg) as Ensemble Sheep.

Young Performers in the Jolly Cast include: Derrick Sanders (from Milwaukee) as Ralph Herdman; Lily Miller (from Waukesha) as Imogene Herdman; Arlo Sturrock (from Milwaukee) as Leroy Herdman; Deyki Miller (from Waukesha) as Claude Herdman; Brayden Schroeder(from Waukesha) as Ollie Herdman; Olivia Vitrano (from Greendale) as Gladys Herdman; Harper Navin (from Franklin) as Beth; Eloise Field (from Oconomowoc) as Alice; Nala Patel (from Germantown) as Ivy; Thatcher Jacobs (from Fox Point) as Charlie; Henry Dizard (from Wauwatosa) as Elmer; Augie Poppert(from Whitefish Bay) as Teddy; Abby Szolyga (from Waukesha) as Ensemble; Magdalyn Rowley-Lange (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Zaria Johnson (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Stella Metcalfe (from Shorewood) as Ensemble; Oliver Kelley (from Germantown) as Ensemble; Reece Davis(from Milwaukee) as Ensemble; Silvia Stoeger (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble Sheep; Maura Kuhnen-Grooms (from Shorewood) as Ensemble Sheep; Pietja Dusek (from Elm Grove) as Ensemble Sheep and Quinn Sison (from Milwaukee) as Ensemble Sheep.

The Artistic Staff for THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL includes: Molly Rhode (Director); Jeff Schaetzke(Music Director); Kristin Ellert (Scenic Designer); Marissa Abbott (Lighting Designer); Daryl Harris(Costume Designer); Jaclyn Bjornson (Assistant Costume Designer); Matt Whitmore (Sound Designer); Marissa Ashlyn (Stage Manager); Lauren Gingold (Assistant Stage Manager) and Kyle Winklemann (Second Assistant Stage Manager).

Tickets start at $15 - Tickets may be purchased at or through the Marcus Center box office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee or by phone (414) 273-7206 or toll free at (888) 612-3500. The number for TDD (for deaf and hard of hearing patrons) is (414) 273-3080.

Group Sales - Groups of 10 or more receive 15% off main floor, regular single ticket prices on most First Stage performances at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater. Call (414) 267-2964 or email groups@firststage.orgfor more information.

First Stage Family Packages - any combination of tickets for three or more plays in the 2018/19 season - are on sale now. Family package prices are available at up to 30% off the cost of regular single ticket prices. Benefits include unlimited ticket exchanges, backstage tours and more.


Opening Night Reception: Friday, November 23, 2018

Following the opening night performance, First Stage invites all patrons to attend the Opening Night Reception at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located one mile from the Marcus Center at 325 W. Walnut Street. Patrons can mix and mingle with the cast and crew of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL while enjoying refreshments, courtesy of First Stage.

Pay What You Choose Performance: Tuesday, November 27, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early.

Grandparent Holiday Brunch: Sunday, December 16, 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Gather the grandparents, parents and children to enjoy a festive holiday brunch at the Bradley Pavilion at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a performance of THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL at 1 p.m., just steps away from the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater. Along with a delicious brunch, families will enjoy a special visit from some of the cast, fun activities for the kids and more! To make your reservations and for more information, please visit:

Tech Talks: Sunday, December 16 and December 23 following the 3:30 p.m. performance

Following select performances, learn more about the behind-the-scenes magic at the Tech Talks, a 20-minute extended talkback with the First Stage creative team.

ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.

This performance will be sign language interpreted for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices are also available at the Todd Wehr Theater.

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