It’s not too early to think about Christmas. And it’s certainly never too soon to get into the spirit of the most recognized holiday in the world, said Kevin Matthews, the elder of the more than 4,000 member Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
The 25th anniversary of the most spectacular Broadway-style musical in the DMV, the annual Evangel Christmas celebration, begins on Saturday, Dec. 5 at the cathedral.
Three performances are scheduled for the opening day at noon, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A 5 p.m. show is planned for Sunday, Dec. 6 while showtimes also include a noon, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. start on Saturday, Dec. 12 and Saturday, Dec. 19.
A 5 p.m. performance is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 13 and the final show is planned for 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20.
Each show is expected to last two and a half hours and feature 10 scenes of Christmas that takes audiences back to the Victorian era, biblical times and up until modern times.
A cast of more than 200 live animals, pyrotechnics and both professionally trained and amateur actors who will recount the story of Jesus Christ in the Evangel Multi-Media & Arts Center, are also included.
Among the live animals are camels, which are also used in many Hollywood movies, Matthews said.
“The only thing that separates the quality of this musical and Broadway is the zip code,” he said, noting that it’s important to get tickets now. “It’s for the entire family.”
This year’s celebration features performances by Avery Sunshine, Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp, Tamela Mann, Mary, Ledisi and Anthony Brown & Group Therapy.
However, the coup de grace is a headline performance by Kirk Franklin, a seven-time Grammy winner who has quickly reached legend status in the world of gospel music.
“He is probably one of the biggest gospel artists in the industry, ever,” Matthews said. “Just recently, he released a brand new song and he’s broken even his own record for the biggest sales in one week. We are delighted and blessed that he’s a part of this.”
Annually, Matthews and others at the church have wowed audiences with one of the biggest holiday events in the nation. Superstars BeBe and CeCeWinans, Fred Hammond, Kelly Price, Israel Houghton, Sapp and Mann are among the artists to have appeared.
“We are able to get such big-name artists because they feel like we do, that this is part of the ministry,” Matthews said.
The triumphant show at one of the region’s largest Black congregations is a story about a family celebrating Christmas and, with a six-figure budget, the show rivals any elaborate Broadway production currently running on the Great White Way or touring the country.
“I get excited about the entire show, not just my part. It’s all about the ministry and it’s all about the message. It’s one of those things that, even as I’ve been asked to perform in the show, I just can’t wait to sit and watch the whole thing,” Mann said in an earlier interview as she used last year’s celebration to debut music from her “Best Days Deluxe” album.
“I’m used to doing this with my sister, but I told my brothers what to expect – that this is a major production and a great way to share in the ministry,” BeBe Winans said prior to the 2014 show. “We love coming to the Washington, D.C., area and as a family we’ve always been treated so wonderfully and the people are so special.”
The annual celebration has regularly been a must-see for area residents who have packed the cathedral, witnessing the story of the struggle between good and evil: Jesus vs. Satan.
Audiences have displayed through their tears and other expressions, how powerful the message in the story remains, Matthews said.
“There’s so much and people can see a really good visual of what Jesus Christ did for everyone,” he said. The show opens with more than 200 individuals dressed in 18th century costumes and dancing and singing in the snow in a small town, set in biblical times.
Actors are dressed as toy soldiers, clowns, ballerinas and a myriad of toys that ultimately leads into a gospel hip-hop dance sequence featuring an energetic choreographed dance routine.
In a nod to Black music, songs by Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, the Jackson Five and Luther Vandross are performed before those on the stage give way to the gospel greats in the production.
Moving scenes depict a blind Bartamaeus and the man with a legion of demons that help bring to life the drama. A spoken-word, a mime presentation and a crowned Christ serve as a punctuation to the production.
“This is something to really celebrate – the last 25 years is all about trying to provide wholesome Christian entertainment for the entire family,” Matthews said. “We’re grateful to the whole DMV area and beyond which has supported this production and seen it go from a small church play and evolve from 50 people to over 250 people participating and to see that we had crowds of a couple of thousand and now over 30,000 is amazing.”
Tickets are $55 to $85 and are on a first-come first-serve basis. For a full list of show times and for more information, visit www.evangelchristmascelebration.com or call (301) 249-9400.