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BWW Previews: THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER Offers Heartwarming Message And Hilarity at The Straz Center For The Performing Arts' TECO Theater

BWW Previews: THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER Offers Heartwarming Message And Hilarity at The Straz Center For The Performing Arts' TECO Theater
Photo by Stephanie Pemberton

What do you get when you cross the unruly Herdman children with a sacred church Christmas Pageant? Debuting November 29-December 2 in the Straz Center for the Performing Art's TECO Theater, you get a family-friendly show bursting with holiday cheer. Featuring a cast of 44 students from grades two through college, the Straz Center's Patel Conservatory will present The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

"The Herdmans are a family of kids that child welfare is always at their home and they may not have the advantages of the other kids at the church have, but they all come to the audition and get in the pageant. Everybody is worried that they are going to ruin it," said director Matthew Belopavlovich.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is not your typical holiday story. Adapted from the best-selling book by Barbara Robinson, this rendition is filled with hilarity, mischief, and wonder. The story follows the raucous Herdmans as they take over the church's annual Christmas pageant, and present their original interpretation of the greatest story ever told.

The story centers on the alleged disaster that befalls one small town during the holiday season. The Christmas pageant director finds herself in the hospital and has to call for back up. PTA mom Grace Bradley steps in, takes on the whole pageant and is coached by the usual pageant director from the hospital. The Herdman children attend the audition motivated by the promise of refreshments afterwards.

They are best known for wreaking havoc and leaving a path of destruction where ever they go, but Grace gives them a rare opportunity to participate. The church members are horrified by the thought of their sacred play being tainted by the rough and tough Herdman siblings.

Of course, there are lessons to be learned about judging people.

Actor fifteen-year-old high school sophomore Aaron Graham plays Bob Bradley, the husband to the show director. "He really believes in Grace. The play shows that you don't judge a book by its cover because you never know if you can change something. When the Herdmans come, everyone is scared of their reputation, that they are bad and destroy things, but they really learn about the story of Jesus and they change. I want the audience to be like wow, just because you see someone one way doesn't mean they are that way."

There is an eventual change of opinion and a journey of discovery for the Herdman children, who find meaning and purpose in this special opportunity. Chaos, shock and hilarity ensue, and what results is a heart-tugging depiction of the Christmas story.

At the close of the show, Matthew hopes the families will be discussing the joy of family and friends, and going into the new year, being less judgmental.

"Going into the holiday season, when you're in a line that's really long, somebody new is in your church or you have to sit with a relative at the table that you normally don't get along with - any of these types of things that happen during the holidays - don't give that person the cold shoulder, don't treat them like they are less fortunate, or an outsider, but really embrace the idea of getting to know them better, reaching out and helping them. Maybe that kindness you show will make a complete difference in their life; It certainly does for the Herdmans in this play.

"This show is about a community that is learning how to give other people chances and not judge a book by its cover, getting to really know people. Throughout the play, we see the community really embracing and accepting the Herdman children. When the community that judged them in the beginning gives them the chance to do something awesome and learn the Christmas story, they wow everybody. By the end of the show, they realize that they thought it was going to be the worst Christmas pageant, but it turns out to be the best."

During the show run, Patel is doing a holiday food drive. Bins will be available for the community to drop off nonperishable food items. Additionally, Patel parent volunteers will be providing free hot cocoa in the lobby before the performance.

Just over an hour, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will be presented in TECO Theater November 29-December 2. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.; a sensory friendly performance will be held December 1 at 2 p.m. Regularly priced tickets start at $15 and may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827, at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at

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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley