The Horrible Herdmans’ Takeover Unexpectedly Results in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

The "horrible Herdmans" (from left) include Dason Fuller as Claude, Connor Gerney as Ralph, Marleigh Purgar-McDonald as Gladys, Evan Tylka as Ollie, Lauren Toney as Imogene, and Langdon Ogburn as Leroy Herdman (photo by Curtis Brown)

On Nov. 2-4, 7-11, and 15-18, Raleigh Little Theatre will present a youth-theater production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, adapted for the stage by Barbara Robinson from her perennially popular 1972 novel about the horrible Herdman children and how they mercilessly bullied their classmates at school and then invaded rehearsals for a church’s annual Christmas pageant and strong-armed their way into all the plum roles. RLT youth theater and education director Linda O’Day Young will stage this 1982 holiday classic in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre.

Young admits, “I love this play. It encourages us to consider the traditional story of Christmas from a different perspective. We see the human side. We see a Mother, a Father, and their new baby far away from home with no place to stay. We feel their sense of fear and loneliness.

“And it is through the Herdmans — a group of ill-behaved, dirty, poor, and rough kids — that we are able to see this human side,” claims Young. “The Herdmans’ participation in the Christmas pageant gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the many times we have misjudged people. ‘The worst kids in the whole history of the world’ let down their guard, open their hearts, and give us something to think about.”

In addition to director Linda O’Day Young, the Raleigh Little Theatre creative team for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever includes music director Yvonne Koch, technical director Todd Aberts, set and lighting designer Thomas Mauney, costume designer Jenny Mitchell, sound designer Becca Easley, and stage manager Karyn Aberts.

Director Linda O’Day Young says, “The costumes are contemporary church clothes, except of course for the Herdmans. The pageant costumes have that home-made look.”

Lauren Toney as Imogene Herdman and Connor Gerney as Ralph Herdman in Raleigh Theatre's presentation of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (photo by Curtis Brown)
Lauren Toney as Imogene Herdman and Connor Gerney as Ralph Herdman in Raleigh Theatre’s presentation of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (photo by Curtis Brown)

At the beginning of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Linda Young notes, “Young Beth Bradley (Cee Cee Huffman) greets us, and begins to tell us about her family, her Sunday School, some rowdy kids, and a simple Christmas pageant, which turns out to be a whole new Christmas story.

“Helen Armstrong (Kelly Watson) is the one in charge of most of the church social events including the annual Christmas pageant, but unfortunately she is in the hospital with a broken leg,” Young explains. “Many church ladies are called to take over for Helen; but although Mrs. McCarthy (Becca Easley) is happy to take on the potluck supper and Mrs. Slocum (Nikki Kunkel) assumes responsibility for the bazaar, no one is able or willing to direct the Pageant. So, the task falls to a stunned Grace Bradley (Jenny Anglum).”

Young adds, “The pageant has already been a source of family conflict with Grace’s son Charlie (David Snee) refusing to be a shepherd again this year and her husband Bob (Barney Weaver) hoping not to have to attend. ‘There’s never anything different about the Christmas pageant[,’ he complains.]

“This conflict is immediately solved when Grace takes on the pageant challenge,” says Young. “Charlie will be a shepherd; Bob will help her; and daughter Beth, as usual, will be in the Angel Choir. [It s]ounds simple until Charlie, fed up with having his lunch dessert stolen by Leroy Herdman (Langdon Ogburn), stands up to him, announcing that he doesn’t care because he can get all the dessert he wants in Sunday School.

“‘That was the wrong thing to tell a Herdman,’ says Beth. The next Sunday all of the Herdmans are there, Ralph (Connor Gerney), Imogene (Lauren Toney), Leroy, Claude (Dason Fuller), Ollie (Eva Tylka), and Gladys (Marleigh Purgar-McDonald). ‘The worst kids in the whole history of the world’ are at Sunday School; and, what’s worse, they’re all volunteering to be in the Christmas pageant!” says Linda O’Day Young.

She adds, “To Grace Bradley’s surprise, Imogene Herdman wants to be Mary. Even more surprising to Grace, Alice Wendleken (Shannon Lyons), who always plays Mary, refuses to volunteer. Ralph Herdman will play Joseph. Elmer Hopkins (Bevan Therien), who always plays Joseph, doesn’t seem to mind. After all, he was offering to pay a dollar to anyone who could take the role this year.

“Leroy, Claude, and Ollie Herdman will take on the roles of the three Wiseman; and Gladys Herdman — probably the scariest Herdman of them all — will be the Angel of the Lord. This leads some of boys (Parker Perry, Graham Gall, and Chaz Strickland) to offer excuses as to why they can’t be shepherds, but Grace won’t allow anyone to quit the pageant,” says Young.

“None of the rehearsals go smoothly,” she reports. “When the Herdmans hear the Christmas story for the first time, they vow to seek revenge on Herod. The final rehearsal abruptly ends when Imogene Herdman’s cigar-smoking break in the bathroom leads Mrs. McCarthy to call the fire department. The church is evacuated. Chaos ensues. The street is filled with crying baby angels (Charlotte Chiavetta, Chloe Guerrero, and Bella Strickland); and inside the Church, Claude and Gladys Herdman are attacking the fireman (Jorge Santos).

Young adds, “The Reverend Hopkins (David Watts) thinks they should cancel the pageant, but Grace Bradley refuses. The community is convinced it will be a disaster; and for that reason on Christmas Eve, the Church is packed.

“The pageant begins with Maxine (Maddy Kunkel) reading the Christmas story while hymns are sweetly sung by the Angel Choir (Cee Cee Huffman, Shannon Lyons, Riley Watson, Hannah Kodadek, Pippa Dunne, Molly Anglum, Hannah Hoskins, Lauren Taylor-Carrillo, and Zoe Watts). Then the Herdmans enter and the whole new story begins.”

When The Best Christmas Pageant Ever made its professional debut on Nov. 26, 1982 at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, The Seattle Times called it: “One of the best Christmas stories ever — and certainly one of the funniest.”

Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 3, 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 4, 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9, 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 10 and 11, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 16, 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 17, and 1 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $13 ($9 children age 12 and under).

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or






NOTE 1: The 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Nov. 7th performances are SOLD OUT.

NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.

NOTE 3: During the run of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Raleigh Little Theatre will conduct a holiday food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina ( For a list of the most needed non-perishable food items, click here:


The Novel and the Play: (Samuel French, Inc.) and (Google Books).

The Novelist and Playwright: (America Writes for Kids) and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).