Pendragon kicks off ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ Saturday

If you go…

What: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” play by Barbara Robinson

Where: Pendragon Theatre,15 Brandy Brook, Saranac Lake

When: Dec. 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 10 and 17 at 2 p.m.

How much: Everybody 18 years of age and older: $16, ages 6 – 17: $12 and kids under 6: $5. To purchase advance tickets visit or call 518-891-1854.

From left, Kaitlin Yando, Eleanor Crowley and Madison Wilcox present a different take on the Nativity story. Crowley plays Imogene Herdman, a misunderstood child who makes a ruckus in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” (Photo provided by Pendragon Theatre)

SARANAC LAKE — Everybody remembers the gold, frankincense and myrrh from the Nativity story, but people tend to forget the part when the angel of the lord punches the shepherds and Mary smokes a fat cigar.

This holiday season the Pendragon Theatre will perform “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” adapted from the short story of the same name by Barbara Robinson

The play revolves around Beth Bradley’s church’s Christmas pageant. Normally the show is cute and mundane, but after the usual director, Mrs. Armstrong, breaks her leg, Beth’s mother, Grace, must take over the production only this year things aren’t so cute and mundane anymore when the rough and obnoxious Herdman kids decide to join in the performance.

Director Kent Streed, who’s been with the Pendragon Theatre for over 25 years, wrote in a press release, “They are that wild and rowdy family we’ve all been fearful of… and fascinated by. They are an unruly, thieving, cussing, cigar smoking, lunch stealing family and their participation in the traditional Christmas pageant means just one thing. The manger will never be the same.”

Director Kent Streed, who’s been with the Pendragon Theatre for over 25 years, offers some preshow critiques and instructions to the performers. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Ten-year-old Sam Clark of Saranac Lake plays Claude Herdman, an unconcerned child who’s constantly chewing a wad of Hubba Bubba gum and blowing large bubbles.

“He’s a bad kid,” Sam said, “and I fool around during the pageant. It’s kind of weird to be in front of a big audience, but I’ve done it before.”

Sam’s 8-year-old sister, Kasey, who plays Heidi Clark, added “at first, at school, you’re so nervous. Then you go out there and do it, and it’s so fun doing it.”

Kasey and Sam’s mother Brandy plays Mrs. McCarthy, one of the holier-than-thou church ladies.

“We do our best into conning [Grace Bradley] into doing the Christmas pageant,” Brandy said. “We’re successful, but then we criticize the mother.”

Sam Clark, 10, will play Claude Herdman, an unconcerned child who’s constantly chewing a wad of Hubba Bubba gum and blowing large bubbles. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

This is the first time Kasey and Sam have ever performed at Pendragon Theatre, but Brandy portrayed American singer, actress and beauty icon Mae West in the theater’s 2002 production of “Dirty Blonde.”

Pendragon performs a holiday show every year. In the past they’ve done “A Christmas Story” and “Christmas Cat and the Pudding Pirates,” among others.

“Usually we end up doing ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but I was so incredibly sick and tired of doing that,” Kent said laughing. “I was looking at a brand-new musical version of [‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’] that just opened maybe two, three years ago. It’s a lot of fun, but I looked at it and said, ‘You’d need a musical director; you’d need a choreographer.’ The show itself, I think, ran maybe two hours, which is way too long, I think, for the holiday season. So I said ‘OK, let’s just shift over to the straight, non-musical version.”

Robinson originally wrote “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in 1971 as a short story. It was the only piece ever to be printed twice in McCall’s Magazine, a women’s publication that ran from 1873 to 2002. The story became so popular that Robinson adapted it into a children’s book. Then she wrote the screenplay for the 1983 film and also oversaw the production of the original stage show.

Kent said “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” has had the regular speed bumps every production has, but overall he’s enjoyed rehearsals.

“A family that plays together, stays together,” said Brandy Clark. She and her children, Sam (left) and Kasey (middle), will perform in Pendragon Theatre’s production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“The expression is, ‘It is herding cats,'” Kent said. “With 17 kids in the show, that’s a lot of taekwondo lessons, a lot of guitar lessons, a lot of holiday concerts and dance lessons. It’s been a little hard, but other than that it’s been a blast.”

Kent also said the kids have been off-book and have committed their lines to memory since the second week of rehearsals.

The holiday shows at the Pendragon Theatre have gotten more popular, according to Kent.

“A lot of community members are involved in the show,” Kent said, “so a lot of their families come to see it. It’s just nice to have an outing every holiday season. We also get a lot of vacationers who come up and see the show as well. That’s why we’ve extended the show in recent years till after Christmas. We used to stop the show before Christmas, but these holiday titles sell and entertain up to the New Year’s.”