Theater review: A moving and joyous production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity | Theater | Indy Week
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Theater review: A moving and joyous production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity 

BLACK NATIVITY, poet Langston Hughes' version of the Christmas story, is a work that easily takes on a life of its own. It immerses its audience in the vivid songs, liturgical dance and sermonizing of an old-style African-American congregation on the occasion of a Yuletide Christian revival. After an opening call-and-response sequence with a talking drum, narrator Jade Arnold exults, "This church where his word is spread is but an extension of his manger."

There's a jubilant, extemporaneous air as various congregants rise and testify between musical numbers that have been freely modified, with the creators' blessing, from the original 1961 version. Under Carolyn Colquitt's superb musical direction, an authoritative multi-racial and multi-generational choir wends its way through two acts of praise and pensive reflections.

Standout soloists included Carly Prentis Jones' angelic "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," Dr. Joy Bryant in "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" and J. Renee Coley's "There's a Leak in This Old Building." The choir, band—and audience, which sang along—elevated the joyous "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and "The Presence of the Lord is Here."

The richness of this pageant is only reinforced by Brenda Hayes' sumptuous costumes and Chuck Davis' African choreography. In its fourth season, this Black Nativity is a celebratory, soulful snapshot: a welcome trip back home for some. And for others, it's a view into a world of faith too seldom glimpsed.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The kids are all right"

  • This Christmas show runs at N.C. State, courtesy of the Justice Theater Project, through Dec. 20

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