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Review by Charlotte Weghorst, Highlands High School Critic Team

With six high-flying rapscallions known as the Herdmans, three shepherds dressed in bathrobes, and one exasperated pageant director, Larry A. Ryle High School’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever truly brought to life the nostalgic tale about the true meaning of Christmas.

This timeless story was first brought to the masses in book form; written by Barbara Robinson. Published in 1971, her take on the classic Christmas Pageant follows Beth Bradley as she witnesses the spectacle of her church’s seasonal performance after the Herdman kids, a troublesome group of six delinquent siblings, descend upon the pageant amidst the chaos of Beth’s mother, Grace Bradley, being chosen to stand in as a last-minute pageant director.

This show, featuring both impressive dramatics and technical elements, demonstrated the pure amount of time and dedication that was put forth by all those involved in this timeless comedy.

One noteworthy performer was Wylie Grigsby as Beth Bradley who took to the stage with both presence and authority. Masterfully leading the audience through a whirlwind of events, Grigsby was able to command the stage as she not only expertly played off of other actors, but also delivered comedic one-liners and assumed the authority necessary for such a renowned character.

Another significant role was that of Grace Bradley who was skillfully portrayed by Charlotte Bryan. Through facial expressions and emotional vibrancy, she was able to undertake this optimistic and self-assured character as she took on the behemoth challenge of orchestrating the annual Christmas pageant. A final prominent character of note is that of Imogene Herdman, played by River Collier, who brought to life the unruly adolescent, ruling the stage with both her physical movement and impressive range of emotions.

Lighting by Carter Breig, Reilly Little, Joseph Anderson, and Xavier Moorman served as a highlight of this production as they took inspiration from the warm lights of the 1970s and 1980s, developed cue sheets, redesigned their magic sheet, and more. In addition, Creativity by Charleigh Cox drove the development of original music for the show, keeping in mind not to make it too modern by both incorporating period research and attending rehearsals to draw inspiration.

Larry A. Ryle High School’s production of the time-honored The Best Christmas Pageant Ever brought together generations both old and new. Whether through tumultuous, crazed children or a hint of good ole nostalgia, the cast and crew led the audience on a whirlwind of events that, maybe, just maybe, left a trace of trace of Christmas spirit in the air.

Review by Raelynn Chesher, Roger Bacon High School Critic Team

Larry A. Ryle’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever left the audience with feelings of love, warmth, and a strange hankering for a Christmas ham.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever was inspired by a novel written in 1971. It follows six oddball children as they maneuver their way into the local church’s Christmas pageant. The audience is taken on an adventure as the Herdman children learn the truth about what really happened at the first Christmas.

Ryle produced a hilarious production that never had a dull moment: from the fabulous lighting designs to humorous mannerisms of the Herdman children - the audience always had something holding their focus.

This story is told from the perspective of Beth Bradley portrayed by Wylie Grigsby. Her job as the narrator was quickly established in the first scene as she introduced the audience to the Herdmans. Time and time again, she would establish scenes. She had great diction and could grab the audience's attention with one word.

Portraying Imogene Herdman, River Collier, had phenomenal mannerisms to truly complete her rendition of such a wild child of the Herdman family. She also did a fabulous job portraying Imogene’s change of heart and tender care for the baby Jesus. The eagle-eyed audience members were able to slowly spot a change in her behavior throughout the show. Never far behind Imogene was Ralph portrayed by Parker Roland. Roland’s impressive character work never ceased to amaze, with his impressive skill for the yo-yo and the overall brute force of his character.

The ambiance of the show could be heavily attributed to lighting done by Carter Breig, Reilly Little, Joe Anderson, and Xavier Moorman. A majority of the time, only half of the stage was lit up, creating well-established boundaries between two places in the set of the house. The crew also did a great job with choosing period-appropriate lighting to make the show feel more realistic for the time period. A great addition to the show was originally composed music by Charleigh Cox. She took the time to really understand the overall ambiance of the show and composed music to match it. A great example of her work was Herdman's introduction song,” Here come the Herdmans” that perfectly matched their personalities.

From firefighters to angels, and finally ham, this production was a wonderfully comedic representation of the true meaning of Christmas and reminded the audience to never judge a book by its cover.

Review by Alexandra Hess, Campbell County High School Critic Team

Tis’ the season for making mayhem! Larry A. Ryle High School’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever was an energetic and captivating tale of when mischief meets the nativity.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is based on a classic childrens’ novel of the same name. Written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, the book follows the six Herdman siblings as they participate in a church Christmas pageant. Despite the negative opinions of their town, the tough and rebellious children learn the story of Jesus’s birth and put their own unique spin on the first Christmas.

Ryle’s rendition of this play within a play fully embodied the Christmas spirit with lively performances and detailed technical elements. The show worked well to balance and distinguish the various aspects of the theater, producing both the overall production and the show within it. While maintaining clear separation between the stories, they still remained connected throughout the plot.

Grace Bradley, played by Charlotte Bryan, possessed impressive vocal inflection and physicality that transformed her into the role of a mother, wife, and mentor. She was able to create a believable portrayal of her character filled with lovely acting choices and reactions in each scene. River Collier played Imogene Herdman, a seemingly improper girl, set to play Mary in the pageant. Collier’s ability to convey powerful emotion in moments of silence, allowed the depth and complexity of her character to shine through.

After assuming the role of Bob Bradley merely two days before opening night, Zachary Simpson confidently delivered hilarious comedic bits and established a realistic relationship with his on-stage wife, demonstrating his professionalism and adaptability. Another comical actor was Parker Roland, who played Ralph Herdman. Roland’s use of a yoyo prop provided him with more engaging movement on stage, exemplifying his individual characterization and remarkable acting intuition.

The technical elements in this show heightened the Christmas spirit and expanded the play beyond the stage. The lighting crew (Carter Breig, Reilly Little, Joe Anderson, and Xavier Moorman used exclusively warm colored gels to create the feel of a cozy home during a 1970s holiday season. This approach gave the show a more comprehensive and homey feel. The music tracks for this show were developed by Charleigh Cox. Cox skillfully distinguished the Herdman family from the other characters with powerful guitar riffs and edgy rock sounds, which contrasted with the show’s overall cheerful holiday music.

Overall, this production’s vibrant cast and dedicated crew, created a performance that beautifully reimagined a holiday classic and revealed the true meaning of Christmas.

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"The play was filled with comedic talent and this was apparent in Charlotte Bryan’s depiction of Grace Bradley. Her ability to transition from one emotion to another without pause was effortless. The plethora of emotions she exhibited, from her initial calm demeanor to anxiety and to finally, her unfailing determination to make the pageant a success created a solid foundation for the story."

-Max Doyle, Roger Bacon High School Critic Team

"Acting as the narrator of the story, Wylie Grisby seamlessly moved the plot along as the effervescent Beth Bradley. Grisby lit up the stage with both her presence and her account of the tale’s events as she delivered monologues with a lighthearted ease."

-Eddie Pearson, LaSalle High School Critic Team

"The crew shined in many areas. One was the costumes which were put together by River Collier and Charlotte Bryan. The costumes magnified each character so it was easy to tell how they acted immediately upon seeing them. They were coordinated based on family as well to show groups of people and the different families had contrasting costumes to show the divide between the Herdmans and everyone else."

-Anya Sperber, St. Ursula Academy Critic Team

"River Collier shined as Imogene Herdman, with tender moments showcasing what's behind her hardened exterior. Collier compellingly delivered a change of heart, with moving glances and delicate motions when Imogene is alone revealing that the Herdmans don't always fit their devilish reputation. Parker Roland as Ralph Herdman fostered the mischievous nature of those kids who play too hard but truly mean well with comedic play fighting."

-Cailyn Miles, Campbell County High School Critic Team

"Beth Bradley, played by Wylie Grigsby, acts as a narrator carrying the audience through the cheery story. Grigby effectively showcased her character's change of heart about the Herdmans, beginning with distaste and ending with a mutual respect between her and Imogene. Her voice was clear with impeccable diction while still maintaining the childlike glow and innocence of the character."

-Delaney Cowles, Mason High School Critic Team

"Although she didn’t get her chance to shine as Mary in this year’s Pageant, Grace Cole’s performance as Alice Wendleken alone left a lasting impression on stage. Implementing her own stardom, Cole’s monologues successfully provided Alice with depth and a desire for condolences after being comically threatened by Collier’s Imogene Herdman."

-Hailey Walls, Milford High School Critic Team

"With abundant morale, Ryle High School successfully put on a show that aimed to break away stereotypes, and acknowledge the good in all."

-Ariana Dickenson, SCPA Critic Team

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