Black Nativity—A Joyful and Festive Night to Remember

 Written by Carla María Negrete Martínez

The Black Nativity
Photo by Christopher Nelson
Last Saturday evening, December 8, 2012, Seattle Theater Group presented Black Nativity, an annual song play celebrating Christmas. This is the third year STG presents the show, yet the non-denominational church it is affiliated with is celebrating its 19th season. This version of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity was directed by Jacqueline Moscou, musically directed and arranged by Pastor Patrinell Wright, and choreographed by Jamel Gaines.

When the first act began, an enthusiastic cast comprised of members of The Total Experience Gospel Choir joined the Black Nativity Choir. Clad in colorful dashikis, they greeted the audience as they walked onstage to vivid percussions and music by the talented musicians MartellBrooks, Walter Finch, Lenard Jones, Christopher Turner, and Gerald Turner, Jr. When they settled down on wooden pews set on stage, Pastor Wright as “The Woman,” humorously walked onto the stage from the house side, making jokes and greeting people as she went. By the time she reached the others, the choir broke out singing, “Joy to the World.” Their energy was outstanding, and prepared the audience for an evening of happiness.

The Black Nativity
Photo by Christopher Nelson
Two narrators stepped up to frame the proscenium, and told the nativity story while nine dancers depicted the narration with pantomimes. In between narration sections, the choir sung cheerfully, furthering the story along through “No Room At The Hotel,” “Oh What A Pretty Little Baby,” “The First Noel,” and “We Three Kings,” amongst others.

When Mary, played by Azama Bashir, and Joseph, played by Victor Reddick, made their first appearance, the story told how they asked for help the night of Jesus’ birth. The choreography, however, was rather comical, because Mary was holding her pregnant belly while executing an exquisite battementbehind her back. While there were some highly technical dancers, others seemed less versed in the classical training of the art form. However, it was the integration of various dance backgrounds—ballet, tap, flamenco, breakdancing—that, though not aiding in the cohesiveness of the choreography, made it exciting and entertaining to watch.

The Black Nativity
Photo by Christopher Nelson
The first act continued along as a musical play and displayed the artistic skills of a cast composed of young and old, which was refreshing to see. As a whole, the show had a strong sense of community, especially when some performers came down and shook audience members’ hands, thanking them for their attendance. The welcoming letter makes it clear that Black Nativity has fostered relationships between audience and cast members for many years. It is inspiring to see a tradition filled with joy that also welcomes newcomers.

During the second half, the cast came out, again waving to the audience, yet this time they wore black robes. They settled in the wooden pews like before, but Pastor Wright and Pastor Alphonso Meadows, Jr stood in front of them. After a formal greeting speech, they announced that it was time for the “church” section. This part of the show had a high level of interaction with the audience; they made everyone shake hands, and stand up to announce which religion they belonged to. One of the highlights of the evening was the way Minister Sam Townsend, Jr., the choir’s director, lead the singers with vigorous enthusiasm through songs like “Praise in The Temple,” “Don’t Wait ‘Til The Battle’s Over,” and “For Ev’ry Mountain.” A memorable song was “Let Everything That Hath Breath Praise The Lord,” as it had incredible syncopations, and filled The Moore Theater with rainbow-like vocal echoes.

In between songs, both Pastors spoke about several topics, at times political, yet mainly focused on the black struggle in the U.S. However, the joy of singing seemed infinite, and at one point Pastor Wright gave a phenomenal performance with “For Ev’ry Mountain,” followed by Francine Reed, a guest artist from Atlanta, who sung “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Oh Happy Day.”

Black Nativity will be showcased throughout December 23, Tuesday through Sunday. This beautiful community-building holiday tradition should not be missed. To buy tickets visit STG’s webpage or click here. For more information about The Total Experience Gospel Choir visit their website by clicking here.