Posted by Bruce Miller
Today is the final performance of Black Nativity, co-produced by African American Repertory Theatre and Barksdale. Dave Timberline said this about the show in his STYLE review:
"The holidays are celebrated on stage in a myriad of ways, but I have never seen an observance more exuberant than the African American Repertory Theatre's Black Nativity. The production — one part musical theater, two parts tent revival — nearly burst through the confines of the intimate Gottwald Playhouse at CenterStage, the cast of 27 conjuring big voices in support of a slew of Christian spirituals.
The show's highlights are provided by a half-dozen lithe and lovely dancers — most of them still in middle school and members of the City Dance Theatre (the two boys — Johnnie Mercer Jr. and Brandon Penn — perform in every show, two groups of four girls alternate performances). They bound across the stage with wondrous abandon, expertly choreographed by Willie Hinton. Backed by a peppy four-piece combo (musical direction by James Henley) and evocatively outfitted by costume designer Margaret Joyner, both the singers and the dancers lend a contemporary energy to the tried-and-true story of Mary and Joseph and their trip to Bethlehem.
Narration and inspirational rhetoric are provided by Alfred Powell, a charismatic preacher. Director Derome Scott Smith has chosen his ensemble members well and several of them are given moments to shine — Topaz Wise’s solo on Now Behold the Lamb and Michael Braxton’s uplifting Mary Did You Know each gave me goose bumps."
Reviews don't get much better than that. The show has now transferred to the historic Empire, and if you'd like to catch today's final performance at 3 p.m., good seats are still available at the Empire box office. You can call 344-8040 or just show up prior to performance. All tickets are $20.
It's been a thrill for us to work with Derome and his exceptionally talented cast on this terrific production. It was our first partnership with AART in a while, our first residency at CenterStage, and Richmond's first production of Langston Hughes somewhat amorphous classic. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that all of us have learned a lot.
The leadership teams of AART and Barksdale will be making decisions in the coming weeks about whether or not to bring a new and improved version of Black Nativity back next year. In most cities where Black Nativity is presented, it has become a not-to-be-missed annual tradition, much like The Nutcracker.
Many thanks to the talented singers, dancers and designers who have brought this Broadway Christmas classic to such vibrant life right here in River City.