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Review: Extreme Christmas Pageant

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The plot gets a little convoluted in the middle of Act 1, when it feels like too much is going on. Mrs. Claus has gotten an extreme makeover; the elves are hatching a plan at Snowbucks coffee shop; and Santa gets diagnosed at North Pole General Hospital (with a completely chaotic, but ultimately charming, audience-participation rendition of the "The Twelve Days of Christmas"). But just over two hours later at the end of Act 2, the traditional, and remarkably realistic, manger scene pulls it all together. Each year, the show ends with the manger, and apparently the fun for returning audiences is seeing how, via Santa and pop culture themes, it manages to arrive.

The sheer enthusiasm of the cast will win over any humbug. And unlike many amateur productions, the staging is creative and keeps the pace. It's deadly to see vocalists standing still and singing, and the creators of this show know that. During one dream sequence when close to 50 children sing to Santa, the potentially unwieldy choir is cleverly choreographed to take turns on Santa's lap, pinching his cheek, tickling him or even slapping his behind, to cheer him up.

Spearheaded by the pastor of music and fine arts, Bob Laughlan, the show's simple, unconditional love theme nicely fits the mission of the evangelical Christian church without overt preaching. Set designer Gregg Hillmar has done better than the majority of local theater companies (with a budget that exceeds the size of their entire seasons). The North Pole village is a Tudor gingerbread dream. And the manger is a work of art with its realistic rocks and Bethlehem off in the distance. Costumer Shirley Long has also done an excellent job with colorful overalls and wintry details like lederhosen. The costumes help distinguish different groups, a much-needed assistance when several hundred are onstage.

Of course the manger scene is the highlight complete with the three kings' elaborate entourages, but it precedes a rousing gospel-style finale starring Laughlan. Baby Jesus was particularly unhappy during opening night's performance, but when the crying stopped exactly the minute the song did, it seemed like a true Christmas miracle.

If you missed the show, or couldn't get tickets, maybe Santa will bring you the DVD, for sale on the WEAG Web site: www.weag.org.. — Carrie Nieman

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