For the fourth year in a row, The Justice Theater Project presents Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity in downtown Raleigh. As the name suggests, it is the retelling of the birth of the Christ child, but this time the tale is told from the Black viewpoint, accompanied by a dynamic choir and a four-member gospel combo led by musical director Carolyn Colquitt. The show is set in two parts: Act I is the telling of the Story; Act II is a full-scale gospel revival. Underpinning the whole is a network of fantastic gospel music, with singers and dancers who have been selected from a roster of candidates from as far away as DC and Charlotte.
Choreographer Chuck Davis joined with director Deb Royals in bringing Black Nativity to the stage, this year set in the Titmus Theatre in Thompton Hall, on the campus of NCSU. For the fourth straight year, ticket sales have outpaced production, selling out weeks before the opening night. Friday night’s production filled Titmus Theatre with a sellout crowd, packed to the rafters and touched by a high-energy sensation that connected this audience with a first-class cast and orchestra.
From the opening bars of the first song to the finale, this cast had the audience exactly with them. Jade Arnold, the show’s narrator, commanded attention with an African drum, as Joseph (Moses T. Alexander Greene) and Mary (Terra Hodge) entered Bethlehem. Soprano Sandra DuBose opened the evening’s musical score with “I Can Only Imagine,” which she sang to a dance by soloist Sheldon Mba. This was only the beginning; the excitement and the talent only increased from there.
The Story takes place on a stage designed by Deb Royals and Tom Wolf, who also designed the sound. Underneath a huge star, the people of Bethlehem gather to see the Christ child, and a joyful noise is presented. Colquitt anchors the band with scintillating keyboards, accompanied by both a drummer and percussionist and a wicked bass played by Sam Peterkin. Drummers are Martel McCloud and Rick Lindsay, who doubles on saxophone. This band covers a wide range of gospel and Christmas music, and supports a beautiful and diverse choir in full Gospel regalia designed by Brenda Hayes.
Highlights of the musical were “No Room at an Inn,” sung by Sandra DuBose; “Mary, Did You Know,” a duet by Carly Prentis Jones and Jamal Farrar, supported by this exceptional choir; and a terrific combination of folk songs “Still, Still, Still” sung by Louise Farmer and “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” sung by Loretta Vinson. These two carols were sung from within the audience, as the soloists faced each other from across the expanse of the house.
Act II features outstanding Gospel music and some sensational vocals. Backed by this top-notch choir, vocalists soared on songs such as “Changed,” sung by Connie McCoy Rogers; “Leak in This Old Building,” sung superbly by J. Renee Coley; “Get Away, Jordan,” as sung by Frederick Locks, and a stirring musical rendition of Psalm 150, “Let Everything That Hath Breath,” sung with the full force of this choir under the direction of Dr. B. Angeloe Burch.
Scattered throughout this presentation is a multitude of children, who provide a wonderful combination of singing and dance. From young dancers as small as age six, who nailed the complicated choreography, to a children’s choir of ten, ranging from small children to teens, this youthful contingent added a new dimension to this delightful and dynamic presentation.
While this show runs through Saturday, December 20, tickets have been sold out for weeks. There are waiting lists at each night’s performance in the event of no-shows. For its fourth year, Black Nativity again presents a truly inspirational program for the holiday season.
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