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San Diego’s most popular holiday show “La Pastorela de la Familia” brings humor, inspiration to Lyceum Theater

“La Pastorela de la Familia,” the newest in Teatro Máscara Mágica’s award-winning series of Mexican-inspired Christmas musicals, once again features the timeless battle between Lucifer’s forces of evil and Michael the Archangel’s champions of goodness set in today’s world of chaos and hope. Its creators promise the funniest and most relevant Pastorela yet.

This year’s production celebrates not only our wonderful multicultural community and our unique home in the borderlands, but it celebrates the family, La Familia. It is a celebration of a journey that we all take, and we have to choose sides. Evil lurks in every corner and is masked with many faces. This wonderful musical, comic satire is a production for the whole family to enjoy and at the end the obligatory piñata for the children.

Playwright Max Branscomb

With this production we are celebrating Max Branscomb, the playwright, like the Archangel who fights for the rights of people, Max has been the Archangel of the Pastorela, and as a warrior he is fighting his battle with cancer. We want to celebrate and honor Max for being the playwright of the Pastorela for over quarter of a century.

“La Pastorela de la Familia” is a contemporary twist on the traditional story of the shepherd

s’ journey to Bethlehem to witness the first Christmas. Called to action by Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the shepherds face temptation and danger from evil Lucifer and his nasty minions. The bilingual script is primarily in English with beautiful Christmas carols sung in Spanish.

Written by Branscomb and directed by William Virchis, “La Pastorela de la Familia” runs Dec. 13-16 and 18-23 at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, 22 and 23 at the Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students, military and groups and $10 for children under 12 or groups of 10 or more. For reservations call the Lyceum Box Office at (619) 544-1000. Tickets are also available through ArtsTix and Goldstar.

La pastorela is a folk art form that dates back to the beginning of Christianity. During the second century early Christians in hiding acted out the Christmas story to hand it down in the oral tradition. It survived as an underground movement until the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century.

The Spaniards brought it to Mexico in the 1540s and it became that country’s most popular form of theatre. More than 2,500 unique versions of the story are produced south of the border. Almost every city, town and village in Mexico has its own version of the pastorela.

A pastorela is the tale of the shepherd’s journey to Bethlehem to witness the first Christmas. It is the B-plot of the nativity, a journey fraught with temptations, distractions and mortal peril as the devils try to prevent the shepherds from reaching their special destination. It is a traditional morality play full of choices and introspection, but presented with levity, music, beautiful costumes and poetic dialogue. Pastorelas are written entirely in verse, like a Yuletide Dr. Seuss story.

TMM and the Old Globe Theater developed and produced the first English language pastorela in San Diego in 1991 at the Old Globe. The play appeals to English and Spanish speakers alike. The text is in English and the beautiful Christmas songs are in Spanish. Raul Moncada of the Old Globe wrote the first script and mentored Branscomb, who has written the show for 26 years. Virchis has directed 27 of the 28 productions.

Branscomb’s devils and angels are masters of disguise who appear throughout the shepherd’s journey as historic and contemporary characters. His pastorelas have inspired theatre companies throughout the Southwest United States to produce their own. Branscomb has written almost 50 pastorelas for companies in Tucson, Los Angeles, San Jose, Bakersfield, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Nogales, Mexico and other cities on both sides of the border.

Director William Virchis

William Virchis is professor emeritus of theatre at Southwestern College. He has directed productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Zoot Suit” and “Let the Eagle Fly,” as well as the national touring production of “Selena Forever.” The late Old Globe founder Craig Noel called Virchis “the county’s boldest and most daring director.”

Besides his work with Teatro Máscara Mágica, Branscomb is the founder and artistic director of the Bonitafest Melodrama, San Diego County’s longest-running theatre production. It celebrated its 38th season in 2015. Branscomb is San Diego County’s most commissioned playwright. He has authored nearly 100 produced plays and musicals for more than 20 theater companies across the na

tion. Branscomb is a professor of journalism at Southwestern College and adviser of “The Sun,” America’s #1-ranked community college newspaper.

Virchis and Branscomb first teamed up in 1992 to update and revise the Lerner-Lowe musical “Paint Your Wagon” at Starlight Musical Theatre. Virchis asked Branscomb to rewrite the cliched Latino character Julio from a shuffling Mexican knockabout to a proud indigenous hero. The revision played to sold-old audiences at Starlight and was named Best Play of the Season by San Diego’s theatre critics. They also worked together as playwright and director of DiverCity Works Theatre and the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast for the National Conference of Community and Justice, America’s oldest civil rights organization.
Teatro Máscara Mágica was founded in 1989 to increase the production of multicultural theatre and to provide professional theatrical opportunities to underrepresented segments of the population. Another mission of the Teatro is to subsidize ticket prices to make live theatre affordable to families and the less affluent. La Pastorela has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as well as numerous human rights organizations. Teatro Máscara Mágica was a recipient of the 2004 San Diego County Multicultural Heritage Award for its leadership in multicultural theatre.

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Reviewers please contact the REP box office, (619) 544-1000, for passes.

About Rick Lakin

Rick Lakin is the author of Brilliant, an upcoming young adult science fiction romance and the publisher at iCrewDigitalPublishing.com, Bringing New Authors to a Digital World. iCrew has published 35 books by 11 authors. Rick has been an optimist for almost two years and is the district webmaster as calso41.us. He is the founder of iCrew Digital Productions, A Community of Young Media Professionals and a member of the 1000 Club of the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers. Rick is an Advanced Communicator Silver in Toastmasters International and is a member of American Mensa. Rick works as a Sports Statistician for broadcast television and is a retired math teacher. He lives in Southern California but his roots are in Columbus, Ohio, home of The Ohio State University Buckeyes.

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