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Truly Resounding Joy

Michael Sainte | 12/8/2011, 2:40 p.m.

The original production of Langston Hughes' song-play, "Black Nativity," was off-Broadway and moved to Broadway on December 11, 1961. The original title was, "Wasn't it A Mighty Day?" and included Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade in the cast, but they left over a dispute in the use of "black" in the title.

It was a grand concept with almost 200 actors, singers, dancers and musicians. Over the years the piece has evolved into just about whatever any given production team can imagine in the all-black take on the nativity story taken from the Bible's New Testament.

It remains a seasonal offering in cities across the country, most notably a highly critically acclaimed version by Karamu Theatre in Cleveland. For several seasons, the D.C. area enjoyed a Kennedy Center production mounted by the iconic Mike Malone of Howard University.

Well, welcome D.C.'s Theater Alliance to the fray! It is beginning its 9th season with this 3rd production of the show. The tale is not relayed as a traditional narrative with a linear plot and storyline. We already know the story of the little baby Jesus come to save the world from sin and despair. So, what provides the appeal of this retelling of the timeless story of sacrifice, faith and redemption?

Theater Alliance, under the stage direction of Stephawn Stephens and musical direction of Michael Terry, offers an abundantly joyful answer to that question. This is not a "star-maker" show, even though individual performers give some thrilling moments in solo work. This is one of the truest ensemble productions I have witnessed in quite some time. And that is where the power and artistry is clearly evidenced. The cast is a wondrous assembly of remarkably talented singers, actors and dancers, but it is there cohesion and harmony that capture you and send your spirit soaring.

The gospel flavor and black church energy wraps you up and carries you on an emotional, soul-stirring journey of very well-known territory: the birth of Jesus and his purpose in saving mankind from itself. Mr. Stephens and Mr. Terry are ably complemented by the scenic design of Klyph Stanford, lighting design of Dan Covey, costume design of Levonne Lindsay, choreography of Tony Thomas and musicians: Vanshawn P. Agnew (Drums), Joseph/Yusef Chisolm (Bass) and Latonya Wren (Keyboards).

This is the season of celebration, thanksgiving and unadulterated joy and I can think of no better recommendation to help you achieve that than seeing this production. It is an experience of truly resounding joy!

"Black Nativity" runs December 3-31, 2011 at the H Street Playhouse, Wednesdays-Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m.. There will be no 8 p.m. performance on December 24 and December 31. Tickets are $35.00 and are available at www.theateralliance.com or by calling 202-241-2539. Group rates are available.

Treat yourself and see this show!