CHAMPAIGN — After Nick Schneider's top two tech people became unavailable to work on his adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," he pulled the plug on the show, which had been presented three straight years at the Parkland College Theatre.
But lots of people, including children, had auditioned.
"We couldn't disappoint them, especially the kids," he said.
So he and his wife, Angela, a former drama director at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, searched for scripts and settled on "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," a play based on the book of the same title by Barbara Robinson.
"A lot of people know about it and like it," Nick Schneider said before rehearsal Monday evening at the Parkland Theatre, where the play opens Friday for eight performances over a two-week run.
He and his wife, who directs, called it simple, straightforward and easy.
Cast member Michael Ryan, a 12-year-old Franklin seventh-grader, called the play creative and a unique way to tell the Christmas story.
In it, Michael portrays LeRoy Herdman, one of six delinquent siblings who wreak havoc when they join the local pageant for the first time, after having heard that the pastor serves cookies and candy to kids who are in the event.
Michael described LeRoy as a rough and tough kid who serves as a kind of wingman to his older brother.
If the play has a lead, though, it's Kelly Barbour-Conerty of Urbana as Grace Bradley, the mother who is pulled into directing the Christmas pageant after Mrs. Armstrong, a church lady who's directed it forever, breaks her leg,
Barbour-Conerty describes her character as a kind of nice, normal, happy, middle-class suburban mom who has absolutely no clue as to what she's doing.
"She gets into an internal competition with Mrs. Armstrong," she said. "She goes a little nuts. As she sees the transformation of the Herdman kids, she re-remembers the real reason for Christmas."
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is set in contemporary times, though Robinson's book was published in 1972. There is nothing in the script that dates it, Angela Schneider said.
The show, of course, has lots of Christmas music because it's about a church pageant. The cast sings a cappella; there is no pit orchestra.
Barbour-Conerty said she's getting a lot of exercise working with the children. The cast, with nine adults and 19 children, ranges in age from 7 to 73. But the kids are the focus of the show, making it family-friendly, she said.
Robinson first published "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" story in McCall's magazine before she adapted it into a book. She later adapted her book into a play; it was first performed in 1982 by the Seattle Children's Theatre. Robinson later created the ABC television movie starring Loretta Swit and airing in 1983.
Bah Humbug Productions, not Parkland Theatre, is presenting "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Nick Schneider is producing.
If you go
What: Bah Humbug Productions presents "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," directed by Angela Schneider
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 20-22; 3 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 22-23
Where: Parkland College Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C
Tickets: $12 for adults; $10 for senior citizens and students; $8 for children younger than 12 (a family of five pays $50)
Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org; 621-8276 (also available at the door)