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On December 12, in SECU Auditorium in the East Building of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Justice Theater Project offered the first of three concert presentations of music from its annual production of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity. The company is composed of members from around the local area. This dedicated and talented group of vocalists and instrumetalists gathered around to spread the powerful message through song and dance. This performance featured two hours of music with no intermission. Directed by Stephanie Asabi M. Howard, choreographed by Kristi V Johnson, and under the musical direction of Michael D. Williams, Black Nativity demonstrates the power of unity while telling the story of the birth of Christ. These presentations are sponsored by Carol Woods Retirement Community.
The venue in which this concert performance was held has wonderful acoustics, and the lighting throughout the show was absolutely captivating. Accompaniment was provided by a small band located to the right of the vocalists.
Beginning with "The Presence of the Lord is Here," the group ushered in guests, indicating the foreshadowing of a special event. This piece, melodic and soft, was lead by a male vocalist with great stage presence. After this, the choir joined in for an uplifting high-energy performance of "Praise Him (Lift Him Up)," featuring rhythmic patterns from the congas as well as melodies from piano and violin. During the progression of the performance, the birth of Christ is symbolized through dance. This moving display of choreography brought out the fear and pain that Mary experienced during the birth. Ultimately, at the culmination of the dance, the mood changed to relief and wonder as vocalists led into the next piece. "Oh Holy Night" was beautifully sung by vocalists from the alto and soprano sections of the choir.
Five lead vocalists took the stage to sing "Mary Did You Know," featuring instrumental components from the congas and piano. This performance induced chills; I found it extremely captivating.
Later on, the vocalists and instrumentalists provided a wonderful rendition of "Rise Up Shepherd and Follow." This featured an "island feel" and was especially pleasing to the ears; the lead vocalist had impeccable stage presence and delivered powerful vocals.
Black Nativity provides audience members with a fantastic listening experience with songs, carols, and hymns such as "Emmanuel," "Joy to the World," and "Lily in the Valley," all while effectively presenting the message of the birth of Christ. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and felt uplifted and in the Christmas spirit by the end of the concert as the crowd roared during a well-deserved standing ovation.
If you are in need of a little joy and Christmas spirit or are ultimately searching for a family-friendly event during the holidays, then Black Nativity by Langston Hughes would be a perfect event for you! Catch their upcoming performances of the Music of Black Nativity on December 14 at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. at the NCMA or the actual play itself on December 15-17 at Stewart Theatre. (The first production of the play is sold out.) For details of these pending performances, see the sidebar.
*Michael D. Williams, keyboards, Bradley Simmons, Darius Adell, & Khalid Abdul N'Faly Saleem, African drum, Paul Dargan, violin, Christian Sharp, bass guitar, & Fred Wilson, alto saxophone
For the convenience of prospective attendees, we list the musical numbers from the show below:
"The Presence of the Lord Is Here" by Byron Cage - sung by Fred Motley
"Anthem of Praise" by Richard Smallwood, sung by Fred Motley, Angela Clemmons, Tiffany Ross & Choir
"Already Here" by Brian Courtney Wilson, sung by Coco McMillian & Ensemble: Brandy Corbett, Marcia Mattox, Reginia Davis, Yvette Brantley, Paul Foglia, & Bruce Page
"No Room" Original arr. by Michael D. Williams, sung by Choir
"Make Room" by Johnathan McReynolds, sung by Eloise Sayre
"Oh Holy Night" & "Oh Come Let us Adore Him" by John Francis Wade, arr. by Michael D. Williams, sung by Denise Jerrido, Karen B. Jones, Carol L. Hamilton, Alma Ross, & Brandy Corbelt
"Who Could Imagine a King" Words & Music by Mervyn Warren & Hallerin Hilton Hill, sung by Youth Choir
"Mary Did You Know" by Lowry, Greene & English, arr. by Michael D. Williams sung by Taylor Stiles, Marcia Mattox, Karen A. Sims, Haven Powell, Zora Umendi & Antwan Hawkins
"What Child is This" Trad. Hymn sung by Jasmine Logan & Zora Umendi
"Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child" Trad. African American Hymn, arr. by Michael D. Williams , sung by Carrie Lockley Lee & Choir
"In The Presence Of A King" by Donald Lawrence, sung by Zora Umeadi & Choir
"I Can Only Imagine" by Bart Millard, arr. by Michael D. Williams, sung by Jasmine Logan
"Sweet Little Jesus Boy" Trad. African American spiritual arr. by Michael D. Williams, sung by Antwan Hawkins
"Go Tell It On The Mountain" Trad. African-American Spiritual, arr. by Michael D. Williams sung by Obelia Exum & Choir
"Rise Up Shepherd and Follow" Trad. African-American Spiritual, arr. by Carolyn Colquitt & Michael D. Williams, sung by CoCo McMillan & Choir
"Emmanuel" by Norman Hutchins, sung by Choir
"The Presence of the Lord is Here" by Byron Cage, sung by Taufiki Lee
"Joy to the World" by George Frideric Handel, arr. by Mervyn Warren, sung by Jasmine Logan & Choir
"Come Thou Almighty King" by Timothy Wright - sung by Antwan Hawkins, Haven Powell & Choir
'The Lord is Blessing Me Right Now" by Bishop Larry Trotter, sung by Choir
"Lily in the Valley" by John P. Kee, sung by Taufiki Lee, Carrie Lockley Lee, Alma Ross & Choir
"Perfect Praise" by Walt Whitman, sung by Wanda Holloway & Choir
"Again I Say Rejoice" by Israel Houghton, sung by Haven Powell, Children Ensemble, & Choir
"Lord You're Mighty" by J.J. Hairston, sung by CoCo McMillan, Antwan Hawkins & Choir. Dancers: Jasmine Logan & Jackie Bennett
"Now Behold The Lamb" by Kirk Franklin, sung by Haven Powell, Tiffany Ross & Choir
"Love Theory" by Kirk Franklin, sung by Bruce Page & Choir
"He Reigns" by Vincent Bohanan, sung by CoCo McMillian & Choir
"The Presence of the Lord is Here" by Byron Cage, sung by Eloise Sayre