By now a Raleigh Christmas tradition, The Justice Theatre Project’s fourth annual production of Langston Hughes’ 1961 Off-Broadway musical, Black Nativity, is an extraordinary celebration that stimulates the senses with a blaze of colors, a torrent of almost overwhelming music, and an intimacy of shared passions emanating from the stage and swirling about in the audience, reinvigorating the talented performers. It’s a revival meeting — and one that will put you into the Christmas spirit.
Director Deb Royals, musical director Carol Colquitt, and choreographer “Baba” Chuck Davis have combined their artistic skills to create a show that seriously needs a larger venue. This show should be performed some place that holds much larger audiences than can be accommodated at Titmus Theatre in N.C. State University’s Frank Thompson Hall.
Langston Hughes (1902-67) wrote the show to expand the Christmas story to include the Black experience in America. It’s the same show, pretty much as Hughes wrote it, first telling the story of the birth of Jesus followed by testimonies of the power of faith, then singing and dancing the values of belief in the goodness and power of God, all in the gospel musical genre and with stylizations from African music, communication, and dance.
Thanks to the inspired efforts of Deb Royals, Carolyn Colquitt, and Chuck Davis, it never gets stale. The energy of the cast and vocal talent, the gamut of colors and fabric designs, the vitality of the dancers have all increased in each of the years that we have reviewed this great show.
The audiences always become a part of the show, engaging in call and response with the actors; and this year narrator Jade Arnold even invited observers to tell where they came from and to offer comments. Cast and audience become family, and it’s a love fest.
This show is an ensemble made of ensembles. There are ensemble voices and solo voices; Little Angels who sing and dance; 14 dancers, two of whom perform with exquisite grace together early on, in homage to the new born Savior; a choir; and various individual character parts. There is a five-piece band, directed by Carol Colquitt, who also sings, both solo and with others.
The show is fast paced, lively, and emotional, full of joy and spirituality, humor and pathos. It is down to earth and downright inspiring. If that weren’t enough, the splendid bare tree limbs of Tom Wolf’s set are elegantly backed by a muted scrim. Lighted in various colors throughout the show, they offer enchantment to each scene.
Notable among the panorama of great talents are Sandra DuBose, Carley Prentiss Jones, Maria Barber, Louise Farmer, Loretta Vinson, J. Renee Coley, Frederick Locks, and the aforementioned Jade Arnold and Carol Colquitt. Once more Dr. Angeloe Burch steps to center stage with his dynamic conducting of “Let Everything That Hath Breath” in breath-taking fashion.
The immense pageantry of the Wise Men’s adoration of the baby Jesus is irreverent and ticklishly amusing. The Shepherds have their own poetic scene, which includes dance and rhyme. The Little Angels add delight and a heartwarming touch to the proceedings.
The wonderful five-piece band just plain rocks. Even if you’ve caught this show in the past, it never loses its freshness; and if you haven’t yet seen it, mark your calendar and be sure to see it next Christmas time.
The Justice Theater Project presents BLACK NATIVITY at 3 p.m. Dec. 14, 8 p.m. Dec. 18-20, and 2 p.m. Dec. 21 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh North Carolina 27607, on the N.C. State University campus.
TICKETS: This show is SOLD OUT, but click here to find out if there are any open seats due to cancellations.
INFORMATION: 919-264-7089 or email@example.com.
Langston Hughes (poet and playwright, 1902-67): http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/langston-hughes (Poets.org) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langston_Hughes (Wikipedia).
Deb Royals (director): https://www.facebook.com/deb.royals (Facebook page).
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis (choreographer): http://www.africanamericandanceensemble.org/chuck_davis.htm (African-American Dance Ensemble bio).
Carolyn Colquitt (musical director): https://www.facebook.com/carolyn.colquitt (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.