BWW Review: Langston Hughes' BLACK NATIVITY Portrays Christmas Gospel through Poetry and Soul

Black Arts MKE presents their joyous and triumphant 2nd annual version of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity first produced in 1961. Numerous theaters throughout America remount the production every year to celebrate the holiday season with an all African American cast. At Wilson Theater in Vogel Hall, Malkia Stampley directs an all star cast of 18 members including charming children and professional actors accompanied by live musicians under the music direction of Antoine Reynolds, along with drummer Taurus Adams and bass player Afton Johnson, while they dance to Marvette Knight's rousing choreography.

Stampley's Nativity begins with flashing lights and sirens perhaps in tribute to youths murdered in central cities across the country, even in Milwaukee, often by stray bullets. From that disheartening scene, the ancient nativity comes to life through the biblical, gospel language and Hughes' memorable poetry. Mary and Joseph travel their weary road to Bethlehem, where they are told "no room" at many inns for this young women to give birth. During Mary and Joseph's journey, familiar carols the cast sings accompany the gospel and include: "Joy to the World," "Poor Little Jesus," "Go Tell It On The Mountain," and "Oh, Come All Ye Faiithful."

This delightful musical celebration on a sparse stage designed by Madelyn Yee features a staiNed Glass star high above the stage, which will eventually be lighted-- a light that led the Shepherds and Three Wise Men to the manger where the baby was finally born. On stage, alongside and under the star, square paned windows with cracks and shadows infer a building, where risers and construction materials loosely cover the steps.. Evocative and timeless, the sparse stage connects the audience to the long ago story and also those currently in the newspapers. Even more noteworthy, an angel climbs to the highest risers dressed in white robes adorned in rhinestone necklaces and heralds the birth of the newborn baby king, Jesus.

The second act transports the audience to present day--a funeral for the small child unseen and shot in the opening scene and a church choir in spiritual song at a praise meeting. Where does the gospel of love, peace and goodwill to all men lauded 2000 years ago fit in the 21st century? In these men and women's lives when another innocent child has been sacrificed in the contemporary story, the baby king will eventually sacrifice his life for humanity. The interesting parallel assures the nativity story deserves retelling again and again.

"Thy Blood Sacrificed for Me," "This Little Light of Mine," and "I Need Thee" are only a few of the songs that capture the audience's attention and unite both communities, the protesters and choir members, in love. The protesters carry signs and speak to Black Lives Matter, and other contemporary topics. When the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the great event spoke to all, every creature on earth matters to Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace, One particular line in the production asks, "Talking about your religion might make you lose your faith."

Faith and gratitude become central to the second act in Black Nativity and shine throughout the splendid gospel story where joy overthrows the darkest days through dance and beautiful songs written in every genre. Another protest sign reads: "My humanity should not be up for debate."

That humanity speaks to any cultural, educational, gender, racial, religious, sexual orientation or those who experience physical or mental challenges. All humanity unites under a heavenly star once seen high over a manger in Bethlehem. Join in this marvelous celebration for the holiday season because the nativity was color blind to those with heavenly eyes. Remember the sign that speaks to love, an agape love for all humanity. For for one spirited and soulful evening with Black Arts MKE and Langston Hughes, raise voices for a glorious alleluia.

Black Arts MKE presents Langston Hughes' Black Nativity at Wilson Theater in Vogel Hall, the small theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through December 11. For more information on further performance schedule or tickets, please call: 414. 273.7206 or visit Black Arts MKE facebook page.

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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