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Newfoundland influence turns Christmas on its head

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012 06:00 am

TOUCH OF THE ROCK – Edmonton-area audiences have been flocking to the Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant … Ever.
TOUCH OF THE ROCK – Edmonton-area audiences have been flocking to the Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant … Ever.
Supplied photo

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Preview

The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant … Ever
Whizgiggling Productions
Dec. 20 through 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: $20/adults; $18/seniors, students.
Call 780-420-1757 or purchase online at www.tixonthesquare.ca

You can almost hear the sea gulls’ cries and see the salty sprays of water smash against the rocks in The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant …Ever.

Poised to open Thursday, Dec. 20 at Varscona Theatre for a four-day run, it’s becoming a local tradition much in the same vein as The Nutcracker, Christmas Carol and Messiah.

But unlike the classic go-to productions promoting lofty ideals, this show boasts an unconventional, down-to-earth blue-collar appeal.

“It’s been overwhelming. My only objective was to bring Christmas to Newfoundlanders who couldn’t make it home. The audience has grown and it is more than just Newfoundlanders. When they come, they stay after the show and want to talk to the cast,” says producer-director Cheryl Jameson.

Back in 1971, Barbara Robinson originally wrote a book about a poor family of children from the wrong side of the tracks who are completely ignorant about Christmas. The three Herdsmen children go to church for the first time after hearing snacks are served.

“They don’t know anything about Christmas except the Christmas hamper and toys they receive from Santas Anonymous.”

Their saga starts off when the community Christmas play holds a casting call. Mrs. Armstrong, the long-time director, unfortunately encounters a moose and breaks her leg, and Mrs. O’Brien steps up to shepherd everyone through this seemingly dull task.

There is always the same Mary and Joseph and the holiday carols never change. Nothing to it – that is until the Herdsmens arrive for the auditions and are given roles.

“It’s fun to see the play through their eyes. When they are told about the Christmas story in layman’s terms, it sounds barbaric to them,” Jameson says.

“They get carried away and the angels sound like comic book characters to them. They even have big plans to beat up ‘Harold’ because he wants to kill the baby,” laughs Jameson. “At heart they mean well.”

New to the production this year is St. Albert Children’s Theatre instructor Byron Martin. This versatile actor landed the role of the eldest son Ralph, who plays Joseph in the play-within-a-play.

“He does a great version of Ralph. He’s very deadpan and quiet, but scary. He doesn’t say much, but his silence is intimidating.”

Martin’s counterpoint is former children’s theatre instructor Eric Wigston playing the younger brother Leroy.

“He is the brother everyone wants to love and Eric plays him innocently and sweetly. He’s the brother that hasn’t been tarnished. He’s not jaded.”

And Mary Hulbert’s Imogene, the older sister, cuts a swath – smoking, swearing and bullying her way into the role of Mary.

“We’re trying to play it seriously and honestly. We’re not trying to be caricatures. But it ends up being funny. The more serious you are, the funnier it is,” Jameson said.

Now in its third year, the script has received minor tweaks as Jameson gradually learned what worked and what fell flat with Edmonton audiences.

The big change is the 13-song score. Whizgiggling brought in Edmonton-based Josh Mellott, an experienced music director with a strong jazz background to fine-tune the score.

While it continues to blend traditionals such as Jingle Bells and Silver Bells with Newfoundland faves Seven Joys of Mary and Christmas in the Harbour, Mellott’s arrangements have pepped up the groove.

“He has basically written more complex and interesting harmonies and sustained chords,” Jameson said.

Although the pageant was given birth as a Newfoundland show, Jameson strongly believes it’s found a home in the heart of Edmonton.

“It’s a nice relaxing show. You can come here and unwind from the mall. You don’t have to think too hard. You can laugh and there’s a nice Christmas message that’s perfect for the season.”


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