Last year I didn’t manage to see Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever at the Varscona, because I left the ticket-buying too late and the only performance I could get to was sold out and I didn’t make it up to the top of the waitlist.
This year I got closer. I actually saw the first half of the show before looking at the clock at intermission and realizing I’d mis-calculated the time of my later-evening commitment, so I wouldn’t be able to stay til the end. So I’ve seen half of this show, and next year it is definitely going on my booking list earlier.
Like the Christmas Carol, I got the impression that many of the patrons at this show had seen the production in previous years and were anticipating the jokes, whereas my only familiarity was with the source material. And I suddenly realised partway through the show that the fussy little girl Alice (Lindsey Walker), the one who gets ousted from her perennial pageant role as Mary by Imogene Herdman’s (Cheryl Jameson) and her brothers’ (Graham Mothersill, Corbin Kushneryk) threats, was missing the point complaining constantly about the way their story wasn’t sticking to the traditional telling of the Nativity, so I had better throw out the little list in my head of all the ways in which this adaptation deviated from the original Barbara Robinson novel since I was missing the point in the exact same way.
Fortunately, I had this realization, or generally got caught up in the show, early enough to be enjoying it. There was a cast of only seven, including a piano player (Jeff Black), and a little bit of amusing double-casting. That meant that not all the canonical Herdmans were on stage, just Ralf (“with an F”), Leroy, and Imogene. But it worked out fine.
In written fiction, I am always a little slow to recognize unreliable narrators or other quirks of a first-person point-of-view character. In the stage version, then, I was surprised to find the narrator character Beth (Kayla Gorman) a bit of a caricature, with distinctive child-like can’t-stand-still and seeming to side with Alice’s disapproval of the Herdmans. It wasn’t at all inconsistent with the source material; I was just caught by surprise.
Compared to the novel, then, Beth’s mother the pageant director has a bigger role. Mrs. O’Brien is played with appealing earnestness, bewildered but coping, by Natalie Czar-Gummer. She incorporates the audience in the story as kids showing up for auditions, and then has each section sing one of the carols as shepherds, wise men, or angels.
The adaptation was originally done by a company in Newfoundland, with a few changes to the original story like the usual director having collided with a moose, and the church being Catholic. The performers’ accents are credible and not overdone. It felt like an affectionate tribute to a culture where lots of Edmonton residents have roots.
Note to self: if this plays next Christmas, buy a ticket early and block off the whole evening.