50th Anniversary of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity
Madame Walker Theatre Centre, Dec. 16-18
The Walker's spirited production of poet/dramatist Langston Hughes’ iconic choreo-poem retelling of the Birth of Jesus, Black Nativity, was propelled by the forces of gospel music, modern dance and preaching. Throughout, the singing, acting and choreographed movement was equally powerful and nuanced, bringing multiple layers of meaning to the fore. Developed to show the personal impact of a miracle 2,011 years ago, the cast brought us into witnessing and absorbing. We were with Joseph and Mary in their desperate need to find a place to birth a child, and then in their amazement at the gifts and adoration.
Act one of Hughes's play, “The Child is Born,” is framed as a narrative story with vignettes, moving us through the journey to Bethlehem. Act two, “The Word is Spread,” is set at a 1961 church service, parishioners replete in vintage clothing. The play reminds through powerful preaching to reflect upon the true meaning of the Birth of Jesus as a force within us: “We are busy complaining about what we think we don’t have and ought to have, when in reality we should be thankful for what we do have.”
Hughes’ enduring message is that the star that brought us to the manger is still shining, and we need only make the effort to find it and retain the initial spirit of gratitude for miracles surrounding us daily. Director Sherri Brown-Webster and music director Reverend Gregory Squires created a production close to the original appearing on December 11, 1961, at the 41st Street Theatre in New York City. This joyous community celebration brimmed with dedicated excellence by a cast giving 200%. Bravo to all involved.