Classical Theatre of Harlem's THE FIRST NOEL Starts Holiday Tradition at The Apollo Tonight

By: Dec. 10, 2016

The Apollo Theater presents The Classical Theatre of Harlem's production of THE FIRST NOEL from tonight, December 10, through December 18, 2016.

Following its world premiere in 2015 on the Theater's soundstage, the Harlem-based holiday musical makes an unprecedented move to the Apollo's mainstage this year, as part of the institution's "Holidays at the Apollo" programming. The musical features original music and reimagined classic carols -ranging from pop to jazz to gospel - and follows three generations of a Harlem family affected by tragedy to tell a universal story of love and belonging.

With an original book, music and lyrics by Lelund Durond Thompson (founder, YellaFella Entertainment) and Jason Michael Webb (Motown: The Musical, Violet and The Color Purple), Steve H. Broadnax III (Dominique Morisseau's Blood at the Root) serves as director and Brian Harlan Brooks (Motown: The Musical) is choreographer.

"The Apollo has supported the development of The First Noel for many years, and we are proud to present this [magnificent] musical on our mainstage following its hit run on our soundstage last season," said Kamilah Forbes, the Apollo Theater's Executive Producer. "The creative team [brilliantly] mixes musical genres to tell a story of family and hope that deepens our commitment to fostering musical innovation and to presenting works that engage our entire community and resonates across generations."

"With my 20 years of experience in every facet of the theater world, I believed there was an opportunity to complement the existing holiday programming with a show that has an uptown, New York City aesthetic," said Ty Jones, Classical Theatre of Harlem's Producing Artistic Director. "I hope that The First Noel will become a classic, seasonal offering on par with other beloved, locally based holiday productions. This story shows how a community is healed, one family at a time and exemplifies how ordinary people can do extraordinary things to help one another receive the gift of love at Christmas time."

The company of THE FIRST NOEL is Brian D. Coats (as Skeeter; Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), Tina Fabrique (as Grandmother Ethel; Ragtime; Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk), Ashley Ware Jenkins (as Noel; The Color Purple national tour), Donald King Jr (as Benny Raindrop), Lizan Mitchell (as Lou; So Long on Lonely Street), Ken Robinson (as Henry; 2015 revival, The Color Purple), Soara-Joye Ross (as Deloris; LES MISERABLES), with Nia Caesar and Zariah Singletary as Young Noel. The ensemble features James Alexander, Angela Birchett, Jesse Corbin, Darius Crenshaw, Tamara Jade Fingal, Ayana George, Latrisa A. Harper, Adam Hyndman, Sarita Amani Nash, Drew Shade, Tiffany Webb and Helen White.

The design team for THE FIRST NOEL is Dan Robinson (scenic design), Rachel Dozier-Ezell (costume design), Alan C. Edwards (lighting design), Curtis Craig (sound design) and Andre Zachery (projection design).

Performances of THE FIRST NOEL take place at the Apollo Theater Mainstage (253 West 125th Street, Harlem, NYC). The production is part of the "Holidays at the Apollo" family-friendly programming series.

Tickets are available at The Apollo Theater Box Office: 212-531-5305 (253 West 125th Street) and via 1-800-745-3000. Group Sales: 212-531-5355. Tickets range in price from $30 - $65. Apollo Advantage member pricing: $30 - $40. To learn more, visit:

THE FIRST NOEL received its world premiere at Apollo's soundstage in December 2015 and was originally commissioned by The Classical Theatre of Harlem and in association with Penn State Centre Stage. THE FIRST NOEL is intended to become a new holiday classic, presented annually at the Apollo.

Lelund Durond Thompson (Book, Music and Lyrics) is the founder of YellaFella Entertainment where he serves as the director, writer, acting coach, and photographer. Mr. Thompson has enjoyed directing shows for New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, La MaMa and most recently a developmental workshop of The First Noel at his undergraduate Alma Mater, North Carolina A&T State University. He is also the acting coach to Ato Essandoh of HBO's Vinyl and Orange is the New Black, and Jane the Virgin star Diane Guerrero. Acting credits: Blue Door, The Glass Menagerie, Look Upon Our Lowliness, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, A Streetcar Named Desire, Dreamgirls and Well. Mr. Thompson received his MFA in acting from the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House acting program.

Jason Michael Webb (Book, Music and Lyrics). Credits include Broadway - Musical Director: The Color Purple; Associate Musical Director: Motown: The Musical, Violet, Leap of Faith, Memphis. Off-Broadway - Musical Director: 2econd Stage: Pasek & Paul's Dogfight, MTC: Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy. Awards - Dove Award winner (Brooklyn Tabernacle's Declare Your Name), two-time Stellar Award nominee, Suzi Award nominee (Choir Boy, Alliance Theater), Rhinebeck Writer's Retreat. Arranger - Battle Hymn of the Republic (2013 Inauguration of President Barack Obama), Violet (Broadway, Additional Arrangements). Orchestrator - Jacksonville Symphony, Nashville String Machine, Carnegie Hall. Pianist - Dame Shirley Bassey, Michael Bolton, Fantasia, Chaka Khan.

STEVE H. BROADNAX III (Director) is the Head of M.F.A. Acting Program at Penn State University. Other directing credits include the world premiere of Dominique Morisseau's Blood at the Root, NSangou Njikam's I.D., The Brothers Size, The Wiz, A Raisin in the Sun, Race, Three Ways Home, The Bomb-itty of Errors, and Blues for an Alabama Sky. As a writer, his works have been produced regionally. Most recently, Smash/Hit (Eugene O'Neil Semifinalist) had its world premiere at the St. Louis Black Rep. The Hip Hop Project, an award-winning, full-length original play he directed, choreographed, and conceived, has toured nationally and was showcased at the Kennedy Center. He has performed at Arkansas Rep. and wrote and starred in his one-man show (homage to blues legend Robert Johnson), R.L. at the Crossroads, in Scotland. He has worked at Pennsylvania Centre Stage, St. Louis Black Rep, and the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Brian Harlan Brooks (Choreographer) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. He began his dance training at the Dance Theater of Harlem, and later moved on to Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre. Brian has performed with such companies as, Forces of Nature, Philadelphia Dance Company, Philadanco! (Philadelphia Dance Company), Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre; the tour of Vinette Carole's Your Arms Too Short Box with God, Donald Byrd/The Group, Williams/Henry Danse Theatre, Earl Moseley's Diversity of Dance, and The Color Purple First National Tour (Dance Captain). He has trained as a professional actor completing a two-year intensive training program at The William Esper Studio under the training of Bruce McCarty and Suzanne Esper. Television and Film credits include; Across the Universe, Lifted, a Fox Searchlight Film, and the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. He has worked as the rehearsal director for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Donald Byrd/The Group, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. He was Ailey Camp Missouri Site Director, and is currently the Resident Choreographer for Motown: The Musical.

THE CLASSICAL THEATER OF HARLEM (Ty Jones, Producing Artistic Director) is an American theatre company that tells stories as seen through the lens of the African diaspora and does work that honors the cultural legacy of the neighborhood in which it was founded. CTH combines original adaptations, music, and dance to present great classics of world literature as well as contemporary works that will stand the test of time while being truly reflective of the diversity of ideas and racial tapestry that is America. Since its founding in 1999, CTH has presented works ranging from traditional classical playwrights (Anton Chekhov, Euripides and William Shakespeare), to established 20th-century playwrights (August Wilson, Langston Hughes and Jean Genet) to new plays by emerging playwrights. CTH also proudly provides theater-based training and live theater experiences to Harlem youth and their families through its arts education program, Project Classics. The organization engages new audiences, provides artistic development of new work, and gives exposure to emerging playwrights with its three free reading series: Future Classics, Playwrights' Playground, and Revisited Classics. For more information about CTH visit CTH on Twitter (@classicalharlem), Instagram (@classicalharlem), and Facebook (

The legendary Apollo Theater - the soul of American culture - plays a vital role in cultivating emerging talents and launching legends. Since its founding, the Apollo has served as a center of innovation and a creative catalyst for Harlem, the city of New York and the world. With music at its core, the Apollo's programming extends to dance, theater, performance art, spoken word initiatives and more. This includes the October 2014 premiere and 2015 international tour of the dance celebration project "JAmes Brown: Get on the Good Foot"; the annual Africa Now! Festival; and the 2016 New York premiere of the opera "Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD." The Apollo is a presenting organization that also produces festivals, large-scale dance and music works organized around a set of core initiatives: Apollo Music Signature Programs - Amateur Night, Salon Series and Apollo Music Café; Legacy Series - work that celebrates and extends the Apollo's legacy through a contemporary lens; Global Festivals, including the Women of the World (WOW) Festival and Breakin' Convention; international and U.S.-based artist presentations focused on a specific theme; and Special Projects - multidisciplinary work with partner organizations.

Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has served as a testing ground for new artists working across a variety of art forms, and has ushered in the emergence of many new musical genres, - including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul, and hip hop. Among the countless legendary performers who launched their careers at the Apollo are D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Machine Gun Kelly, Miri Ben Ari, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, JAmes Brown, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder; and the Apollo's forward-looking artistic vision continues to build on this legacy.

The Apollo Theater is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to extend the institution's role in fostering artistic innovation and in building appreciation of American culture around the world. For more information, visit

Photo Credit: Shahar Azran, 2015

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