Bedlam in Bethlehem

In keeping with their original offbeat version of the story of Christ’s birth, directors have added a live animal to “Nativity! The Musical” in its fourth year at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Burbank.

Bringing Mary to Bethlehem this year will be Bugsy the pony, said Greg Baldwin, who co-wrote and directs the show with his wife, Melissa.

“Seeing an animal in our little sanctuary will be quite a surprise for the audience,” Greg Baldwin said. “It’s not what you expect to see.”

Bugsy is a consummate professional, the Burbank resident added.

“He hits his mark every time, has all of his lines down, and he’s playing a donkey,” he said. “It takes quite a performer to play a different species altogether, and Bugsy rises to the occasion.”

He will be wearing a costume and donkey ears, Greg Baldwin said.

Bugsy is a twentysomething Welsh pony cross, used for training children to ride at Step Aside Stables in Glendale, owner Dana Kanstul said. That gives him an edge with the production because several young children play angels and shepherds, Kanstul said.

“He’s gone to the church a few times during rehearsals,” she said. “There were a lot of screaming children there the other day. They were so excited to see him. He’s done horse shows, so he’s used to a lot of activity.”

Bugsy has gone out with members of the church when they go caroling, wearing a Santa hat and draped with garland, bells and bows, Kanstul said, but this is his acting debut.

Having Bugsy in the show has added to the fun, said Hayley Murphy, 14, who plays Mary.

“We’ve rehearsed with him, and all the kids get really excited,” she said.

At last weekend’s rehearsal all the children came running up to pet him, said 14-year-old Cooper Baldwin, the director’s son, who plays Joseph.

“There’s a lot of excitement and chaos at the same time,” Cooper said. “Adding random stuff like this makes the show better and better each year. I think it’s one of the bigger highlights of the show this year.”

The show is definitely wackier than any Christmas pageant around, Greg Baldwin said.

One of the four new numbers, “Good Morning Bethlehem,” is a parody of “Good Morning Baltimore” from the Broadway musical “Hairspray.”

“Anyone who knows the musical will know where we’re going with that,” Greg Baldwin said.

The Baldwins have blended secular aspects and sacred traditions, he added.

“It’s, of course, the Nativity, but we’ve also incorporated things from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and others into this one wacky, zany conglomeration,” he said.

It allows non-Christians to enjoy the pageant as well as Christians, Greg Baldwin added.

The show’s originality keeps Marilyn McGinnis coming back.

“It’s a musical comedy on the birth of Christ, and you don’t usually find all those words in the same sentence,” she said. “It’s very professionally done, it’s hilarious, but at the same it doesn’t detract from the original Christmas story, which is what it’s all about, really.”

She is also looking forward to seeing a pony play the donkey, she said.

“The surprises keep coming,” McGinnis said. “I don’t know what this pony business is all about, but we’ll find out.”

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