Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity Dec. 2, 2015
Presented by Emerson College and National Center of Afro-American Artists
Book by Langston Hughes
Music & Lyrics chosen by Langston Hughes
Based on text from the Gospel of St. Luke
Executive Producer and Director: Voncille Ross
Assistant to the Director for Music: Stephen Hunter, Sr.
Choral Director for Children: Marilyn Andry
Choral Director for Adults: Milton L. Wright
Ballet Mistress: Desiree Springer
Review by Kitty Drexel
Performances are open to the public beginning on Friday, Dec. 4. I was invited to a dress rehearsal. This review will be based on the wonderful performance the NCAAA so graciously allowed me to attend on Dec. 2, 2015.
(Boston, MA) Jesus was a Jewish man from Israel. Israel shares a border with Egypt which is in Africa. His birthplace, Bethlehem, is approximately six miles from Jerusalem. It takes about five hours to get to Be’er Sheva from Bethlehem if you catch the right bus (thank you Googlemaps). From there, you could get within the borders of Africa if you really wanted to but the journey would be pointlessly rough. I mention this to prove a point: given the physical location of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem on a map, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was the blonde haired, blue eyed, white man that Christians enjoy depicting today. You’d have to travel on foot through Lebanon, then Syria and finally Turkey, or voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece or Italy before hitting any majority of white people… And that’s in 7-2 BCE. Good luck finding an agent willing to sell you travel insurance.
This information is incredibly important in the process of understanding and respecting the grand Christmas pageantry that is Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. In this production, voices “of black persuasion,” both young and adult, create a joyful noise to share the story of Jesus’ birth. To specify, the entire cast that retells the story of Jesus’s birth is black (including the adorable, incredibly patient baby playing Jesus). I mention this because some audience members may be offended. Hopefully, after some thought, these shocked viewers will recognize that they should only be offended if they don’t see black people as people. Images of a white Jesus should be comprehended as the useful metaphor of universality that is intended rather than taken as bald fact.
Hughes’s work combines gospel song, modern dance, narrative music and percussion into one community-oriented story. The music was hand picked by Hughes’ and is sung in the gospel style but the silver-throated soloists come from diverse backgrounds. Traditional gospel was represented but singers also had operatic and contemporary training. The dance elements draw from modern as well as children’s theatre pantomime. There is African drumming that underscores the throes of Mary’s birth pains. It may seem like an eclectic mix but the result is satisfyingly whole.
The cast of 2015’s Black Nativity in Boston is wonderful. They deliver a physically powerful, emotionally charged production that warms the heart and moistens the eyes. Their voices are clear, and strong. Songs such as “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Joy to the World” are given new meaning. There were tears in my eyes as they sang “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”
Talent levels ranged from seasoned professional artists to young tots just beginning their journey in the arts. Rather than focus on the inequality of artistic experience, the performance puts center stage the joy and gratitude of the Christmas season. This isn’t a community theatre production, nor is it a professional production. It lies happily somewhere in a space between that allows the work to speak for itself.
The ASL interpreters are performers in their own rights. Thank you for representing the disabled community with such sincerity.
Black Nativity has been performed in Boston since 1969. It has a grand history of performance in Massachusetts. It’s production at Christmas-time has become theatre ritual. It’s suitable for all ages. While it is Christ-focused in nature, the performance has a broad range that both secular and non-secular audiences will enjoy themselves. You have every reason to see Black Nativity this December.