Thomas Jefferson High School will present its first production of the year in sync with the season.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will be performed Dec. 6-8 in the school auditorium. The play is based on a bestselling novel by Barbara Robinson published in 1971 by Harper.

“We have about 26 students on stage, and we have 15 to 20 involved in the crew,” said Matthew Eledge, drama director at T.J.

The story centers around a Sunday school class preparing for the church’s annual Christmas pageant. After a member tells a school bully they get snacks in Sunday school, the outsider and his five unchurched siblings crash the next class and volunteer for roles in the Christmas play. The “good” children who are regular members of the class are shocked and don’t want to share the stage with the rude and rowdy Herdmans. The result is the newcomers are cast in unlikely roles — including those of Mary, Joseph and an angel — while the others are stuck playing shepherds and ensemble members.

Along the way, the Herdmans are exposed to a book they have never read — the Bible — and are shocked to learn that the innkeeper couldn’t give Jesus a bed and that King Herod wanted to have the Holy Child killed. The play ends up being a meaningful lesson on inclusiveness.

Eledge said the play is part of his plan to stick with family theater productions during this, his first season at T.J.

“I really wanted to also do something that was universal,” he said.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” fills the bill, Eledge said.

“It fits family theater, it’s fun, it’s cute … and I think it’s still relevant, because it’s about accepting people who are different than ourselves,” he said.

Volunteer co-director Kacie Hughes, who has been working with Eledge for almost 10 years, also likes the play.

“It’s a show that’s so simple, it’s easy to build and make funny,” she said.

Freshman Alexandria Mucci, who plays Gladys Herdman, a bona fide brat, is enjoying the opportunity to step outside herself and portray one of the Herdmans, “mostly because they’re rowdy, they’re wild, they don’t really know manners … they don’t know what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re doing it for attention.”

“It’s really fun,” said Mucci, whose only other acting role was as an ensemble member in a sixth-grade play.

After working on this production, Mucci has caught the drama bug and wants to stay involved in the T.J. drama program.

“I want to be a Broadway actress when I grow up, so this is going to be fun,” she said.

Senior Karagin Ruff, on the other hand, plays Alice, a goody two-shoes who tries to correct the Herdman siblings’ understanding of the Christmas story and their characters in the pageant.

Karagin has been in all but one of the productions T.J. has presented during her high school career and played Lisa in “David and Lisa” and Vera in “The Odd Couple.” She also had a role in “Evil Dead” and sang a solo in “Spamalot.” She thinks “Best Christmas Pageant” is a good play.

“It’s super inclusive,” she said. “It’s just a fun family play. It’s very funny all the way through, but then it’s kind of a tearjerker at the end when they all come together and learn the meaning of Christmas.”

Eledge taught at Skutt Catholic School in Omaha for five years and Millard North for four years before coming to Thomas Jefferson. He started out focusing on speech and, after directing one-act plays for competition, became interested in theater. He is currently working on a master’s degree in theater education. He does much of his coursework online and gets hands-on experience during the summer at University of Northern Colorado.

“I want to show theater can be a universal activity,” he said. “My goal is to really create an appeal to all types of students. The benefits to all students are really transcendent and powerful.”

Performances will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 7 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8 in the auditorium at Thomas Jefferson, 2501 W. Broadway. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children.

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