Want to see joy personified?
Look no further than Black Nativity, now blazing the stage of the Anacostia Playhouse with light, love, hope and more joy to the world than any Scrooge could withstand.
Part Christmas pageant and Sunday praise meeting, Black Nativity is unapologetically Afro-centric but altogether accessible to anyone seeking a celebration of the birth of Christ that is musically and spiritually uplifting.
Premiering originally in 1961, Black Nativity was written by poet Langston Hughes, one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He called Black Nativity a “gospel song play,” and that it is. Through various productions and even depending on the company that presents it, Black Nativity can be modified by varying song choices used for the piece. This is Theater Alliance’s third production of Black Nativity, the first directed by Eric Ruffin. Ruffin and his expert collaborators in the music and dance departments – e’Marcus Harper-Short and Princess Mhoon – have chosen to focus on the atmosphere Hughes himself outlined for Black Nativity in the acting edition of the script: “reverence, awe, joy and jubilation.” Each characteristic is present in abundance throughout the performance.
Part one is the Christmas story told in the style of African storytellers, mingling interpretive dance, and an array of songs, new and old, to tell the story of the young couple Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem to pay taxes and give birth. Sure, it is an age-old tale, but it is so engagingly portrayed in rhythm, rhyme, song and dance. Prepare to be surprised at how the story unfolds.
Thomascena “Tomi” Nelson and Addison Switzer serve as the primary storytellers of the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth. Throughout the act, other members of the ensemble take turns carrying out the story, switching to sing or join in the celebratory dance, as needed – serving as innkeepers, shepherds, wise men, and witnesses to the glory that came on that Christmas night so long ago. As bedecked in sumptuous costumes designed by Collin Ranney, the cast’s regal bearing and heartfelt performances were infectious.
Special mention must go to Ny’a Johnson and G. Carlos Henderson as Mary and Joseph. Throughout the first act, they bring to life the loving and humble couple destined to be the Earthly parents of the Christ-child through lyrical dance, as choreographed with finesse by Mhoon.
The other cast members use song to express the reverence and jubilation Langston Hughes captures in Black Nativity, and boy can these ladies and gentleman sing! Each performer gets their chance to lead a song, but the point is really that they all raise their voices to truly ring in joy to the world like an angelic choir. Listed alphabetically: Natasha Gallop, Marquis D. Gibson, Jason Johnson, Shanté M. Moore, Roy Patten, Jr., Krislynn Perry, Elton Pittman, and Jakiya Ayanna. Each one of them, along with Nelson and Switzer, were capable of raising the roof of the Anacostia Playhouse and I am pretty sure they do. The diverse song list runs from spirituals to gospel and traditional carols.
Closes January 4, 2015
Theater Alliance at
2020 Shannon Place SE
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 202-241-2539
What did Langston Hughes do for an encore after the stirring first act rendering of the Nativity story? Take us to church. When the cast returns for the second act, they have traded their splendid African gowns and headdresses for their Sunday-go-to-meeting finest. With the great old tune “Meetin’ Here Tonight,” as the introduction, the cast shows how our modern Christian worship services grew from the retelling of Christ’s birth and life. Marquis D. Gibson speaks up, identified as “Bishop,” and leads the assembly through a foot-stomping, shouting to Glory, church revival time. This time, instead of retelling Bible tales, each member of the ensemble offers a more personal view of how Jesus touched them. Testimony and song meld in perfect harmony, highlighted by “Mother” Nelson’s soulful contralto voice offering a stirring “Precious Lord.” The spiritual and musical riches come in such abundance; only the hardest of heart would be left unmoved.
As powerful as the vocalists are in every musical number, the backup musicians give them the muscle to blow that roof off of the theatre. Keyboardist Marvin Ford, bassist Yoseph Chisolm, and stellar drummer Jonathan Livas can go from rock and roll to the Rock of Ages with the best of them.
Ruffin’s exuberant and touching production is given a simple but effective setting through the set and lighting design by Brian Gillick and Christopher Annas-Lee, respectively. Four wooden archways suggest both the rustic Holy Land and the comfort of a church. The intimate space of the Anacostia Playhouse lends itself to a personal theatrical experience and this show fits the confines like a glove.
What more can I say? If you are looking for a Christmas performance that defines joy, warms the heart and feeds the soul, look no further than Black Nativity.
Black Nativity by Langston Hughes . Directed by Eric Ruffin . Music Director: e’Marcus Harper-Short . Choreographer: Princess Mhoon . Featuring: Natasha Gallop, Marquis D. Gibson, Jason Johnson, Shanté M. Moore, Roy Patten, Jr., Krislynn Perry, Elton Pittman, Jakiya Ayanna, G. Carlos Henderson, Ny’a Johnson, Thomascena Nelson, Addison Switzer. Produced by Theater Alliance . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
Closes Jan 4
Malcolm Barnes . DigiNews a winning four out of four star rating for its highly energetic yet movingly inspirational ensemble performance.
Ramona Harper . DCMetroTheaterArts a jubilant holiday classic and unforgettable theatrical experience.
Beatrice McClearn . MDTheatreGuide the group work beautifully together in their rhyme and rhythm as they told the story of the birth of Jesus.