When Troy Thompson and Donovan Johnson were children, they played together. Decades later, they are directing a play together. In fact, they both believe it will be the Best Christmas Pageant Ever – ever. The shows will run Dec. 8-10 and 15-17 in the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City.
Thompson, the show’s primary director, is a fan, proponent, and regular participant in BrickStreet Theatre’s holiday productions. When planning this year’s offering, he knew he wanted Johnson joining him as crew for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Their friendship grew through years of activities at preschool, Forest City schools, First Congregational Church, and Waldorf College (now Waldorf University).
“Last year, Don and I began spending time together again after his dad died,” said
Thompson, reflecting on life conversations the two shared when Johnson was traveling back and forth from the Omaha area to Forest City to settle his father’s estate. “It’s been great having him back in the area. Now, to have him as musical director for this show, we get to relive the times we wrote, directed, and produced two Christmas shows while in high school.”
The pair also performed in their original productions to the delight of local, supportive
audiences. Now, Thompson and Johnson have authored original content to supplement what patrons will enjoy when watching the traditional play named after Barbara Johnson’s classic children’s novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Thompson has written six scenes for characters in an adult choir, and Johnson has written musical arrangements of some popular Christmas songs for that choir.
The original content does not alter the official script. Instead, the extra scenes supplement that content. In fact, Johnson will be on stage the entire time playing background music as a soundtrack for the show. The effect is similar to what piano players did in silent picture days.
“His skills as a musician are unbelievable to me,” said Thompson, now retired from
duties as an Army recruiter. His affinity for live theatre dates back to his fine arts experiences at Forest City High School and his theatre courses and performances while at Waldorf. “Don must have millions of songs in his head that he can pull out whenever he wants or write an entirely new one on the spot. I’m in awe of his talent.”
Johnson built a career as a professional musician after moving from Forest City. He has
written music for productions online and the stage in addition to recording numerous albums. He has performed hundreds of concerts in the United States and the United Kingdom, including shows at Carnegie Hall and The Grand Ole Opry as well as aboard Carnival Cruise Lines and with The Glenn Miller Orchestra.
“I was ready to move back,” said Johnson, “and having this show to work on has been a good challenge. I’ve arranged the music to fit the vocal range and abilities of the choir members. It’s rewarding to see them take on old music now arranged in a new way.”
The adult choir is comprised of vocalists from many area congregations or with no local congregation affiliation, making it a uniquely rewarding experience for the performers.
Johnson has been the musical director for several stage productions in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area in addition to founding Enlightened Piano Radio, a non-profit for aspiring pianists. He also runs his own sheet music business which caters to pianists worldwide. This is his first production with BrickStreet Theatre.
“I’m having a great time,” said Johnson, who still performs in the Twin Cities in a Jimmy Buffett tribute band known as Parrott Head Paradise. “People who come to this Christmas show will be moved. They will enjoy its depth and take its meaning home with them.”
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever will play on the stage of the Boman Fine Arts Center in
Forest City on December 8-9 and 15-16 at 7 p.m. The Sunday matinees on Dec. 10 and 17 start at 2 p.m.
Prior to each 7 p.m. Saturday show, patrons can buy tickets to a dinner show that starts at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. for that event with seating promptly at 5:15 p.m. The characters at that dinner experience will bring to life an original collaborative creation inspired by stereotypical church potlucks. It’s part improv and part sketch comedy with some song and dance thrown in. That pre-show experience is directed by Nate Forsberg. There are only two opportunities to purchase add-on tickets for the limited seating at the Dinner Theater Experience prior to the Saturday shows on Dec. 9 and 16.
Tickets for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and its Dinner Theatre Experience are
available online at www.brickstreettheatre.org or at the door, as available. Tickets for the Dinner Theater Experience must be purchased in advance. Patrons may also purchase tickets by leaving a message with the BrickStreet Box Office at 641-585-1800. The cast ranges in age from elementary school to retirement years. It has members from Forest City, Leland, Buffalo Center, Fertile, Belmond, Goodell, Garner, Lake Mills, Clear Lake, and Mason City. BrickStreet Theatre is a regional community theatre based in Forest City that provides art and entertainment opportunities for north Iowa and southern Minnesota. Its mission is to entertain, educate, and inspire through quality performances and learning opportunities, thereby enriching the cultural life of surrounding communities.