FORT WORTH If the Abdo family were to huddle just before the curtain rises, the dialogue might sound like when the Waltons told one another goodnight on the old TV series.
Dad: Good luck, Emily.
Emily: Good luck, Colleen.
Colleen: Good luck, Ellissa.
Ellissa: Good luck, Peyton.
Peyton: Good luck, Andrew.
Andrew: Good luck, everybody!
Nick Abdo, his two sets of twin daughters and his 10-year-old son are cast members in The Littlest Wiseman, a Nativity pageant staged in Fort Worth since 1960. The show begins Saturday with two performances and runs through Dec. 15 at Scott Theatre.
Free to the public, the elaborate play is a holiday gift to the community by the Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir through a grant from the Walsh Foundation. The late local philanthropists Mary D. and F. Howard Walsh brought the hourlong play, written almost a century ago, to Fort Worth in 1960.
Theres so much love for Mary and Howards giving spirit. We want to do everything we can to continue their legacy, said Kent Schmedel, the producer and the bell choirs managing director. Its a true commitment.
The Littlest Wiseman is the story of a shepherd boy named Zarah who is visited by wise men on their way to see the baby Jesus.
Nick Abdo appeared in his first pageant at age 10 when he sang with the Texas Boys Choir. The 48-year-old North Richland Hills software support engineer has been involved in the production every holiday season since, except for the years he attended TCU and a technical school.
He and his wife were ringers with the bell choir that performs before the play. Their children have been in the show since age 3, when they were winged cherubs.
A family tradition
This year, Emily, 20, auditioned for the role of Mary and got the part. Her twin, Colleen, is a shepherd. Twins Ellissa and Peyton, 12, are angels. Andrew is a kings page.
Their dad serves as the announcing angel and the silent monk.
The Littlest Wiseman is a family tradition for us, Nick Abdo said. It just wouldnt be Christmas unless we were doing this. It would feel like something is missing.
The play is also a reunion for cast members and production personnel. Many are longtime friends, but they see one another only during fall rehearsals and the nine performances each December.
At its heart, the play is a labor of love. The actors are unpaid volunteers.
Assistant director Suzi McLaughlin, wife of the late Jerry Russell, one of the pillars of the North Texas theater community, has faithfully helped with the production, on and off the stage, for 40 years.
Costume coordinator Jeania Phillips is a 37-year veteran. For 35 years, Julie Ballew, a local ballet instructor, has gracefully played the ethereal role of Zarahs angel.
Others have contributed to the plays success for decades.
Dads going to be a king!
One November evening, Larry Goins sat offstage and watched several teenage shepherds rehearse.
As one and then another spoke, Goins moved his lips imperceptibly, mouthing each characters lines, word for word.
Goins should know the play by heart. This is the 29th consecutive year that the retired Fort Worth police officer will perform the role of Caspar, a king or wise man who follows yonder star.
Goins, 72, never aspired to appear in a Christmas play. In the mid-1980s, he took his youngest daughter, Laura, to audition for a part as an angel. While he waited for her tryout to end, someone with the Wiseman staff asked him to read.
So he did. Hath thou noted the star that shines above? After Goins finished the recitation, he was handed a script.
When Goins returned home and walked through the door, his wife asked their daughter whether she had been chosen to be an angel.
I dont know, the 10-year-old replied, but Dads going to be a king!
Unfortunately, hours before the opening performance, Goins was hospitalized with an infected gland in his neck.
He could have told the director to find someone else to play the far traveler bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Instead, he explained his dilemma to his understanding doctor.
And so, every evening for a full week, Goins wife picked him up at the hospital and drove him to the theater so he could kneel onstage and reverently present his crown to the infant, lying in a manger.