Holy terrors: Nightmare children learn meaning of holiday peace, joy in 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever'
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
When Eleisha Miller says she's playing "a terror and a half," she's not kidding.
Miller stars as the eldest of the Herdman clan, a pack of near-feral children.
"They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse." And that's just in the first paragraph of Barbara Robinson's beloved 1971 book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
And then, they start attending church just for the snacks and wind up starring in the congregation's Christmas play — a tale now to be staged by Amarillo College Conservatory Theatre.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and 18 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in AC's Ordway Auditorium. Tickets are $12. Call 806-371-2921.
Miller's Imogene is "rambunctious, bold, outgoing in the worst way possible," the 17-year-old actress said. "She wreaks havoc wherever she goes."
Boy, does she — and so do her siblings, including the youngest, Gladys, played by 9-year-old Ella Neeb.
"I always get to run up and hit my brothers, just not that hard," Neeb said of the young men playing her siblings: Grady Hunt as Claude, Harrison Loshnowsky as Ollie, Payton Preston as Leroy and Iann Coleman as Ralph.
"This piece just makes us laugh," said director Linda Hughes, who last staged the heartwarming comedy about 20 years ago.
"But also, at the end, there will be some tears in the audience because of the way they tell the Christmas story," Hughes said. "There's a mix of really hysterical chaos and the poignancy of the Christmas season."
Speaking of poignant: Best Christmas Pageant Ever will be Hughes' last play to direct for the conservatory, which she founded six years ago. She'll retire following the Summer Youth Musical production of The Secret Garden in July.
"I always know when it's time for me to hang it up," Hughes said. "I had the same feeling with the Ice Follies (with which she skated from 1965 to 1968), I had the same feeling with ACTS (the old Amarillo College Theatre School for Children, which she founded in 1983 and ran until 2004). ... Now, I want to spend some time having time, because the theater does not allow that."