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Andria Theatre to present 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever': Show opens Thursday

The cast of Andria Theatre's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" rehearsed last week. The show opens Thursday, Dec. 6. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 5
Grace Bradley and her daughter, Beth, played by Sarah Heidelberger (right) and Allie Trombley, have a discussion in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 2 / 5
Parker Zwach, playing the part of Imogene Herdman in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," holds baby "Jesus" during the pageant. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 3 / 5
Playing the Herdman children in Andria Theatre's production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," are (back, left to right) Parker Zwach as Imogene, Roxanne Sweetwater as Gladys, Addison Randazzo as Leroy, Jonah Heidelberger as Claude and (sitting) Noah Bjorndahl as Ollie. Not pictured is Nicholas Zabroski, who plays the role of Ralph. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 4 / 5
Gladys Herdman, played by Roxanne Sweetwater (right), is having a discussion with Grace Bradley, played by Sarah Heidelberger, as the rest of the cast of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," looks on. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 5 / 5

Joy Wrolson isn't new to directing, but she's making her directorial debut at the Andria Theatre Thursday with "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Wrolson, the theatre's box office manager, has directed plays in Kansas, California and in Zimbabwe.

"I had a Fulbright Hays Fellowship in 2004-05 for dissertation research and during that time, I taught at the University of Zimbabwe in the Theatre Arts Department," she said. "I directed in Zimbabwe twice for the Harare International Festival of the Arts."

The 1988 Alexandria graduate said directing and spending time behind the scenes backstage is what she loves and where her passion is, not acting.

Wrolson is looking forward to directing her first Andria Theatre production, which she said is "basically a play within a play."

She said "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" is about a pageant at a church and that the woman who is always in charge breaks her leg three weeks before rehearsals are set to begin.

Grace Bradley is strong-armed into taking over the pageant, and a family of children who are deemed the worst kids ever sign up to take part once they find out there are great snacks for those who participate, explained Wrolson.

"It's a really funny, tongue-in-cheek retelling of the Christmas story," she said, adding that the play has a large cast with more than 20 named characters and a chorus of angels/shepherds.

This isn't the first time Andria Theatre has produced "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Wrolson said that it was also performed in 1997 and again in 2007.

First-time actor

Sarah Heidelberger can cross acting off her bucket list. Although, acting was never actually on her bucket list.

A stay-at-home mother of five, Heidelberger said it was her kids and husband who encouraged her to audition. In fact, it was her 16-year-old daughter who filled out the paperwork and then told her mom she would drive her to the audition.

Her children have been in numerous plays before, so Heidelberger isn't new to the theater. But she is new to being on stage herself. After the auditions, when names were posted for the various parts, Heidelberger said, "It was a lot for my 'mom brain' to take in. I had just celebrated a big birthday and this is totally out of my comfort zone."

But she described her character, Grace Bradley, as someone who is similar to herself. She explained that Grace is a kind of quiet church lady who was thrown into directing the Christmas pageant and now has to deal with the Herdman kids, who showed up and are stirring up some drama.

"It's been a really good learning experience," said Heidelberger. "It's been challenging and it has stretched me, but it's been good."

She added that it has been a great way to make memories with one of her children, as her son, Jonah Heidelberger, was cast in the role of Claude Herdman.

Her perspective

Fourteen-year-old Allie Trombley, an eighth-grader at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria, plays the role of Beth Bradley.

Trombley said she narrates the play from her perspective, sharing her feelings about what is happening throughout the Christmas pageant and how it is coming together.

Her character in the production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" has probably been her toughest role of her six plays at the theatre, as well as one of her favorites. She also loved playing the role of Mary in "Annie."

The reason it was tough, Trombley said, is because her character has a lot of lines, and also because her character is not only an actor in the play but also the narrator, and she always has to know what is happening so she knows where she needs to be.

Trombley enjoys acting because it's "fun to meet new people." She also said acting is fun because she gets to be someone else and gets to step in their shoes for awhile.

Trombley hopes to continue acting throughout her high school and college career, as she loves to be on the stage.

If you go

WHAT: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

WHEN: Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 6-8 and 13-15, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 9 and 16, at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Andria Theatre, 618 Broadway St., Alexandria

TICKETS: Go to www.andriatheatre.org or call the box office at 320-762-8300.

Cast

Bob Bradley/Fireman — Paul Hartmann ll

Grace Bradley — Sarah Heidelberger

Mrs. Armstrong — Shannon Randazzo

Mrs. Slocum — Kathryn Tomoson

Mrs. Clark — Kirsten Widman

Mrs. McCarthy — Katelyn Niemeyer

Reverend Hopkins/Fireman — Scott Giannone

Beth Bradley — Allie Trombley

Charlie Bradley — Tai Auran

Ralph Herdman — Nicholas Zabroski

Imogene Herdman — Parker Zwach

Leroy Herdman — Addison Randazzo

Claude Herdman — Jonah Heidelberger

Ollie Herdman — Noah Bjorndahl

Gladys Herdman — Roxanne Sweetwater

Alice Wendleken — Alexis Loosbrock

Maxine — Avery Sinning

Elmer Hopkins — Max Jost

Hobie — Jayme O'Brien

David — Miles Bryce

Beverly — Malorie Raether

Shirley — Finley Paulson

Juanita — Linnea Hoven

Doris — Kylie Dummer

Chorus: Kobe Knudegaard, Ashley Donley, Emily Staples, Sammi Swensrud, Sailor Peterson, Lauren Heseltine, Karis Knudegaard, Liberty Knudsen, Abigail Nelson, Leah Zenner, Savannah Auran, Olivia Zollner, Lydia Renney, Abigail Renney, Sofia Wray, Mahri Kolar

Crew

Director — Joy Wrolson

Stage manager — Jenny Raether

Set design — French Goulette

Costumes and hair — Katelyn Niemeyer

Properties — Carrie Sweetwater

Light design — Paul Hartmann ll

Light tech — Carrie Sweetwater

Sound — Greg Raether

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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