Half a century has passed since the off-Broadway debut of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, a recasting of the Christmas story in African-American song, dance and culture. In retrospect, its audacious, theatrical mix of poetry, Scripture, gospel choir music, original songs, mime and liturgical dance was probably a bit ahead of its time when it premiered in 1961. Modern dance avatars Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavellade left the production prior to its opening, before a New York Times critic sniffed, "For cultivated musical ears, a little gospel singing may go a long way."
Though the work has become a staple of community Christmas celebrations across the country, it hadn't had a professional production in this region until the Justice Theater Project started planning this collaboration with several regional churches a couple of years ago. "There was such a need. For years, people had been renting buses and going to see productions in Greensboro and elsewhere," managing director Melissa Zeph noted. "We've had an incredible outpouring of desire to be a part of this production since we announced it," added director Deb Royals-Mizerk. "Some of the best gospel singers in the Triangle are in this piece."
That interest has sold out the production's Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee performances, but seats were still available at press time for Sunday's 8 p.m. showing. —Byron Woods