It's a story about some really horrible children, but the title and the fact it's a staple of holiday theater should give a value to how it all turns out.
"I'll be surprised if there aren't some sentimental tears at the end," said Kelly Wynn Woodland.
Woodland directs the Manatee Players production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," which opens today in the black-box theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
The plot revolves around a family of seven nasty kids who find out their Sunday school at church serves cookies. They show up to chow down, then learn the church is holding a Christmas pageant, and they decide to take all the lead roles.
Fans of the Manatee Players have seen Woodland's work before. She directed "Romeo and Juliet" and "Witness for the Prosecution," among many other shows.
Here she's heading a large cast (17 people) dominated by youngsters. The youngest is only 5. That could be challenging for some directors, but Woodland's an eighth-grade teacher by profession, and she said the cast is a pretty well-behaved bunch.
"They're really civilized," she said, "and some of them are very experienced."
The show itself is compact -- only about an hour long -- so it's ideal for families, she said. Adults and youngsters will enjoy the humor and the message, and even little ones don't get antsy.
Details: Dec. 5-22, Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.
-- Marty Clear