CLAY COUNTY — Barbara Johnson’s children’s book, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” tells the story of the meanest kids in the world – the Herdmans — and in their desire to get some free doughnuts, crash a Sunday school class around the holidays. They end up demanding the leads in the Christmas pageant despite not knowing anything about the birth of Jesus.

Cassandra Maggard, a fifth-grade teacher at Crestview Elementary, serves as director of a cast of characters taking on the roles from the touching holiday classic, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical.” The show is part of the Christian Youth Theatre Kansas City organization, specifically the Northland location.

The show, aimed to get everyone in the holiday mood, is Thursday to Sunday, Nov. 8 to 11, in Peters Theater on the William Jewell College campus. The 23-member cast comes from all over the Northland.

Jillian Downing, 10, a fourth-grader at Warren Hills Elementary in Liberty, plays Imogene Herdman. Last year, she played Gladys, the youngest sister, in the Corbin Theatre Kids Co. production of the show. Now she’s the older sister. It’s also her fourth CYT show.

“She’s very fun to play,” Downing said. “I get to be mean. How can I not like a song like ‘Take My Lunch?’ I then get to start the transition to not mean as the show progresses. It’s good to be reminded that people can change and judging them is harsh.”

Lauren Watt, 13, a seventh-grader at South Valley Middle School in the Liberty School District, plays Betty the Church Lady, who is described as a sweet Southerner who calls everyone “honey.”

“I think Betty gets on people’s nerves, but she means well,” said Watt, who has performed in eight CYT shows. “This is the sort of show that defines that no matter who you are, if the right influences come into your life, you can change. The Herdmans do things on their own, but there is redemption at the end.”

Tanner Gibbs, 16, a home-schooled sophomore, plays Bob Bradley, the husband to Grace Bradley, the reluctant Christmas pageant director. He’s performed in 14 CYT shows, often cast as dads and granddads.

“Bob is a typical dad and not cartoonish,” Gibbs said. “He’s more the voice of reason, but also reluctant to help as well. He has a dry sense of humor.”

Gibbs also sees this show as a way to share the Christmas story and redemption. His favorite song is titled “On a Night Like This.”

“The Herdmans definitely turn a corner at the end of the show,” he said.

Josey Willard, who hails from Gladstone, plays Claude Herdman. She’s a sixth-grader at the Gateway Sixth Grade Center in the North Kansas City School District. This is her third show with CYT.

Claude, who is the middle Herdman, is a character, Willard said. She will play the male role, pulling her hair up under a hat.

“It’s hard, but I like it,” she said. “It’s great to try out new stuff. Claude is definitely not the shy girl roles I usually play. The Herdmans grow and I like that sort of transition.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at or 389-6630. 

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