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This article was published 5/12/2011 (2087 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mix a few Beatles tunes with the story of a communist regime toppled on Dec. 25 and you might have just hit on the perfect formula for a church Christmas pageant.
A new musical about the 1989 Romanian revolution, by Winnipeg playwright and actor Marc Moir, doesn't have the usual cast of shepherds, angels and wise men, but he believes it still embodies the spirit of Christmas.
"This evil empire (in Romania) fell on Christmas Day and people could celebrate for the first time in 50 years with joy and freedom," he says about his two-act musical, titled December, on stage this weekend at Cross Church as their annual Christmas production.
As well as directing the cast of 20 actors, Moir takes on the role of the lead character, Laszlo Tokes, a Reformed minister from Timisoara, Romania, whose opposition to the communist government generated public support to help topple the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.
"I like to do something people haven't seen before," the 26-year-old Moir says of the unusual concept, which includes 20 songs from the Beatles canon, including Revolution, Here Comes the Sun and All You Need is Love.
"There's an automatic bias when you hear about Christmas pageants or Christian theatre. People think it's going to be cheesy and preachy."
Best known for his fringe festival show Padre X, a one-man production about military chaplain John Weir Foote, Moir admits he loves traditional pageants with angels, shepherds and the wise men, but is attempting to challenge the preconceptions people have about Christmas plays.
"If you do the same thing over and over, the crowd will shrink and people will go on autopilot," says Moir, whose six-month-old daughter makes her acting debut in his show this weekend.
The folks at Holy Trinity Anglican Church are counting on the opposite effect, hoping their classic Christmas pageant appeals to Winnipeggers longing for the spirit of Christmas past.
With 70 actors from age six to mid-80s, vintage costumes, two stages and professional lighting amid the beauty of the stained glass and dark wood in their 127-year-old historic building, the classic Christmas pageant reaches far back into history, says director Bruce Duggan.
"I like being part of a long tradition and to know I'm part of a few years of it and it was there before me and I get to do a small part of it," says Duggan, who has been part of the Christmas pageant at the downtown church for more than two decades.
Revived after a four-year hiatus, the Holy Trinity pageant uses a script and format premiered in the mid-1950s, says Rev. Merv Lanctot. Over the years, the production has grown and now involves about 100 of the church's 250 regular attenders who pantomime the action while a narrator tells the story.
"I think the congregation gets as much out of it as anyone else," says Lanctot of the production, which costs $4,500, mostly for the banks of rented lights. "It's a real community-builder. We're an inner-city church. We draw people from all over the city."
Lanctot hopes the revival of their Christmas classic will draw an audience from across the city for the two free performances featuring the actors, a 15-voice choir and organist Richard Greig.
Across town, Gateway Church hosts Bethlehem Live! for the sixth consecutive year at their campus at 851 Panet Rd.
About 400 volunteers, half of them actors, work to put on the production in which the audience moves through various venues in the church to follow the action, explains Gateway minister Ron MacLean.
He says the $15,000 production draws upwards of 5,000 people over its four-day run, attracting Christians from across the theological spectrum, people from other faith traditions and those who are curious about the Nativity story. About 900 people can take in the 35-minute performance each evening or afternoon.
"Our culture has been so secularized, the Christmas story isn't so well known anymore," MacLean says.
Featuring seven scenes, three newborn babies taking turns in the role of the infant Jesus, and a barnyard full of live animals, Bethlehem Live! attempts to portray the time of the birth of Jesus in the year 4 BC, although Maclean admits one anachronism. This year, Dr. Seuss's Grinch is making an appearance in the production as a teaser for an upcoming worship service.
"It costs us $15,000 every year, but we feel like it is our gift of Christmas for the City of Winnipeg and it's a joy for us to do," MacLean says.
The people of Holy Trinity view their pageant in the same way. It's an hour to celebrate Christmas by soaking in the familiar carols, hearing an old story and being part of a community, says Duggan.
"The pageant, in its style and experience, is the exact opposite of Christmas in the mall," says the business professor at Providence College.
"It's peaceful, it's quiet, it's communal. Nobody buys anything, nobody sells anything. We just have Christmas together."
Classic Christmas pageant, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 256 Smith St., phone 942-7465. Free performances run 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11. Free parking available on marked parking lots on Smith Street.
Bethlehem Live!, Gateway Church, 851 Panet Rd., phone 989-6580. Free performances run 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday Dec. 10; 12 noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and Sunday, Dec. 11. Check out www.bethlehemlive.com for more details.
December, Cross Church, 1787 Logan Ave., phone 632-7322. Performance 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, with a possibility of another show on Sunday, Dec. 4. Tickets are $10, available from the church (www.crosschurch.ca) and include dessert between the acts.