Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant

Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant The Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant started in 1984 at the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale as a modest production, with the First Baptist Church donating $20,000 to stage a Christmas pageant as a gift to the community. This year, the now Broadway-style spectacle will embark on a 30th anniversary celebration starting November 30 with a budget of over $1.3 million.

Sandy Casteel, the pageant’s original coordinator – who still now makes costumes for the show – says, “The show just keeps getting better, but one thing has never changed and that’s the storyline of displaying the real meaning of Christmas; from bringing Bethlehem to life and the musical drama about the Nativity through the crucifixion and resurrection of our Savior.”

The early years
The first five years at War Memorial was a labor of love for the volunteers. The child performers, dressed in character, were bused in from the church just minutes before show time. Behind the auditorium were food tents and corrals for the animal actors that included camels and goats for the biblical scenes.

Even in the early years with just a few performances, there were laser lights, an orchestra and flying angels. Sandy laughs, “There were really no dressing rooms early on and the actors would scramble running from trailer to trailer changing costumes and makeup. When it rained it was garbage bag time to try and get to the stage on time and stay dry.”

Because of the huge success and response to the Christmas Pageant under the pastoral leadership of O.S. Hawkins, the expansion of the downtown First Baptist church in 1990 was built with the sanctuary construction designed to handle the growth and high end production involved in putting on a Broadway style musical performance. This took the pageant to another level.

Mac McConnell has made a career as Simon Peter
Actor Mac McConnell plays the disciple Simon Peter and narrates the story of Jesus, from his birth to the Last Supper, his crucifixion and resurrection. McConnell first became involved in the production in 1989 when he was asked to be an understudy for the pageant’s narrator. Within a few years, he landed the role permanently.

“Everything I am right now I owe to the pageant,” he said. “It has changed my life.” In fact, McConnell loved acting so much, he sold his successful picture-framing business in Fort Lauderdale and began traveling to churches worldwide, teaching biblical lessons through drama.

Over the 30 years, there have only been four actors playing the most challenging role of all, Jesus. Les Chevelday, who is still performing daily as Jesus at the Holy Land experience in Orlando, spent many years with the pageant. Currently John Abney has the role of Jesus with a backup now in Adam Roberts.

10th Anniversary brings new sanctuary celebration
On the 10th anniversary of the pageant, the current sanctuary was celebrated with a custom designed presentation of the Christmas Story.
Current artistic director, Jeff Crevier, who joined the pageant in 1996, continues to wow audiences with yearly upgrades of lights, sound, special effects and opening entertainment acts. Crevier is teamed up with long time musical director John Jones, who has been involved since 1992.

20th Anniversary brings a Broadway design and feel
In 2003, Jeff introduced a 20th Anniversary celebration with a new grand Austrian curtain and new settings for both acts of the program designed especially for this production by George and Goldberg. This firm’s credits included the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, SuperBowl XXVI, and televised concerts. The stage was designed by Broadway designers. The Silver Anniversary of the Christmas Pageant provided a time of reflection and expansion, with new flying effects, more original music and a cavalcade of new costumes.

Crevier says, “We produced the most shows in our history when we decided to expand to 20 performances for the 20th anniversary. After the economy took a hard hit in 2007 we reduced the performances back to 15 where we are today. It’s always been one of the ‘hottest tickets in town.” He continues, “Most shows sell out within hours of tickets going on sale.”

John Jones adds, “I remember lines in the early days before automation of ticketing when people would literally be camped out all night at the church. We had to sell tickets manually at the church. We limited the number to 20 per person back then. The turnouts continue to expand worldwide with groups and tours coming in from countries as far away as China, Japan, Europe, Canada and more.”

Pageant televised worldwide for decades
The Pageant has been televised by WPBT-2 for several decades across the USA and in scores of countries around the globe. Pageant DVDs are distributed internationally, with the timeless of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus realized each time the Christmas story is told.

In 2011, Pastor Larry Thompson announced that over 1 million attendees had viewed the Christmas Pageant, with over 50,000 attending each year in the now 2,500 seat sanctuary. Jeff added, “We are able to track tickets now with online ordering and Internet technology, and when the 1 millionth person purchased their ticket, we awarded them with an iPad.”

One of the most celebrated aspects of the Pageant is the role played by young people, featuring hundreds of children and students from weeks-old babies (in the starring role!) to high school seniors who’ve grown up with the Pageant all their lives. John Jones states, “This is one of the most impactful parts of my involvement; to watch my own children be a part and serve in this production to see the story of Jesus come to life.”

The Pageant has also proven to be a great evangelical tool to bring friends and neighbors to experience the true meaning of Christmas.

30th Anniversary will have enhanced scenes and new lighting
The 30th year of the Christmas Pageant will begin the first of its 15 performances on November 30 , with several new scene presentations, enhanced lighting, music and surprises. The last performance of the year will take place on December 15. Sandy Castell shares, “The first show each year is targeted to local non-profit agencies and we have annually offered free tickets to many of the homeless and less fortunate and that’s always one of our most gratifying performances.” She continues, “This is our gift to the community, and all volunteers are members of First Baptist of Fort Lauderdale.”

Tickets to the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant are available online now at christmastickets.com.

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2 Responses to “Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant”

  1. Our family was blessed to have seen a production of the pagent many years ago.
    We were able to record part of it on vhs.
    My father then ordered a copy of it and we enjoyed it for years.
    My father passed away a few years ago.
    The tape that he bought is now missing.
    We would love to be able to find the year of the performance that we were so impacted by many years ago.
    After reading a websites history of the pagent I gather that it would have been a very young Mac McConnell.
    Any chances that there would be records of orders of the earlier versions.
    If so I could send you the mailing information that the tape was sent to .
    Thank you.
    Sincerly.
    Marilyn

  2. Lavone Avery

    I woyld luke a list of the televised shpws dating fron the first show through 1995. Also the price listing and address for orders please. Thanking you in advance. Merry Christmas to ALL!!

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