Many of us have heard the Christmas story about Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus, and seen some of the countless interpretative versions of that biblical episode ranging from never-ending school pageants, myriad Hollywood treatments, to Snoopy and the Peanuts gang’s illustrious take on the holiday trope.
One of the most entertaining and spiritual versions out there has to be Langston Hughes 1961 retelling Black Nativity. TeCo Theatrical Productions has made the play a Dallas favorite since moving into their new space at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center in 2008.
Hughes, the great American poet of the Harlem Renaissance is not really know for writing plays. However his is best poetry uses musical elements, especially the blues, so when he called Nativity a “gospel song play” it makes sense. The show uses an entirely black cast to tell the story with traditional Christmas carols sung with gospel flavor, and a few songs written specifically for it.
Each year, TeCo brings in a new director for the play. This year it is JuNene K at the helm. She also choreographs the show, and the dancer/performer flair she brings is evident in this impassioned, colorful, soulful, and flowing production.
The Center’s mission “to cultivate a diverse and vibrant arts community while creating sustainable opportunities for local and emerging artists through performances and education” is apparent in this heartfelt production that draws a sharp distinction between theater of the community, and not community theater.
A beautiful piano medley intro sounding out into the darkened theater sets the peaceful, yet energetically joyous mood of the play before the whole cast and musicians (Geno Young on keyboard, and James W. Powers III on percussion) break into “Joy to the World.” The ensemble of actors and singers (Sherry Powers, Tomi Idowu, KD Davis, Tuesday Lewis, AveMaria, Bobbie Jackson, Deon Q. Sanders, Brent Edward, Rodney Antoine Crayton, and Xavier Powell), handle every song with ardent assurance; however, standout numbers include “No Room in the Inn,” “Mary Did You Know,” “The Night That Christ Was Born,” “Leak in this Old Building,” ”Who is Like the Lord,” and the final extravaganza of pumping vibrancy “People Get Ready.” Soloists who soar are Jackson, AveMaria, and Crayton.
Superior dance work by Amaria Stern, Joy Jones, JuNene K, and Draper Wynston keep the show moving. And, yes, there is even a mime (Bekah Wade) who added to the panoply of merry sights.
“It all began with that first Christmas in Bethlehem,” and the fact that TeCo keeps the show going every year warms the cockles of any humbug heart.