BWW Reviews: The Black Rep's Joyful Presentation of BLACK NATIVITY
One of the worst things that can happen to a theatre group is to lose its venue, and that's precisely what happened to The Black Rep. But, it's the season to give thanks, and in that spirit, we celebrate the fact that Harris-Stowe State University has graciously offered up the Emerson Performance Theatre as a place for the Black Rep to stage their current season. The first production in their new digs is the wonderful Black Nativity: A Holiday Celebration.
The first act features a reenactment of the birth of the baby Jesus, with Joseph and Mary searching for, but not finding, any room at an inn. A colorful combination of song and dance is used to tell this story, and it's a thoroughly engaging presentation that showcases some exceptional choreography as Joseph and Mary are "shadowed" by a pair of dancers (Alicia Gbaho and Ryan Johnson) that interpret the work through movement.
The second act brings the action into the present, with the emphasis placed on a church Christmas program. We're witness to all the conviviality and enthusiasm that this generates. It's a terrific concept that makes it hard not to get caught up in the infectiously joyful mood that's created.
I last saw this show in 2011, and like I wrote then, it's hard to single out any individual performances since this is such a lovely ensemble piece. Needless to say, the cast does an exceptional job bringing these characters to life. In fact, rather than dwell on any specific actors or actresses I'll just list the cast and let you know that they all do exemplary work. The cast includes: Mario Pascal Charles, Truenessia Coombs, Evan De-Bose, Matthew Galbreath, Alicia Gbaho, Herman Gordon, Leslie Johnson, Jennifer Kelley, Ryan King, Samantha Lynette Madison, Ashreale McDowell, Jermaine Smith, Leah Stewart, Eboni Wilson, and Roz White.
Conceived and directed by Ron Himes, this is a moving staging that tempers the seriousness of the subject with doses of good natured humor. He's aided in his efforts by the arrangements and original compositions of Diane White-Clayton. Jim Burwinkel's lighting and simple scenic design makes good use of the smaller confines (the cast is paired down slightly as well), and Heather Beal's choreography, along with Marissa Perry's vibrant costuming, is eye-catching and delightful. The band also does nice work rendering this score and includes: Keith Fowler (drums), Kyle Kelley (pianist and music director), James Belk (percussionist), Dennis Brock (guitar), and Sean Robinson (bass).
The Black Rep's production of Black Nativity: A Holiday Celebration is splendid holiday entertainment that's suited for audiences of all ages, and it continues through December 22, 2013.