By Nate Jacobs
December 3 – December 21, 2014
WBTT presents this joyous holiday gift to the community. It’s a celebration of the Nativity story with gospel, blues, spiritual, and Christmas music, paired with the poetry of Langston Hughes and the creativity of WBTT. Children and adults of all races and backgrounds will be enthralled by this high-energy, theatrical wonderment. Black Nativity is not included in the season subscription.
Directed by Nate Jacobs
Choreographed by Donald Frison
|VIDEO: Open up this holiday video "card" to see our Christmas celebration!|
Did you know . . .
The original title of Black Nativity was: Wasn’t it a Mighty Day?
Since 1961 Black Nativity has been performed nearly every year somewhere in the world
During the holiday season, Black Nativity is recognized as the African-American Christmas card to the nation
Langston Hughes spent time in Harlem’s jazz and blues clubs and collaborated with artists like Duke Ellington
Langston Hughes promoted the phrase ”black is beautiful”
Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett star in the 2013 movie of Black Nativity
Keyboard – J.L. Cash, Jr.
Percussion – John Walker
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
Black Nativity is the retelling of the birth of Christ from an Afrocentric perspective. It’s based on the Gospel of St. Luke, paired with the poetry of Langston Hughes. Hughes developed a late-in-life interest in African-American spirituality and the oral traditions of their churches. His script for this “gospel song-play” developed as a result of that interest.
Black Nativity opened for a limited run of 57 performances at Broadway’s 41st St. Theatre on December 11, 1961. It was one of the first plays by an African-American to be staged there.
The preliminary title was: Wasn’t it a Mighty Day? When the title was changed before it opened, two of the lead performers, Alvin Ailey and Carmen deLavallade, quit the show in protest. They were concerned that including the word “black” in the title would be too limiting and divisive for a Broadway show.
Rave reviews by critics and audiences alike proved that black in the title was not an issue. After closing in NYC, Black Nativity was performed at President Kennedy's International Jazz Festival and then was invited to make its European debut at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. A New York Times critic attending the latter festival wrote, “Sophisticated Italian audiences greeted Black Nativity with enthusiasm, taking part in the singing and hand clapping and insisting on curtain call after curtain call.”
After Spoleto, Black Nativity opened in London where it was taped for a television special by Westinghouse Broadcasting Company. Since its opening, the show has been performed nearly every year somewhere around the world.
A film version starring Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett hit movie theaters in 2013.
Many of the contemporary productions of Black Nativity are adapted by the directors to reflect the cultural interests of the times. Although a few songs were created for the original show, the rest are any combination of traditional Christmas carols, gospel, blues, spiritual, funk, and jazz music that the producer/director chooses. The “griot-style story-telling” from an ensemble cast can also vary among productions.
Langston Hughes (Playwright) was one of the most important literary figures of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. His poems, plays, musicals, operas, essays, films, and adult and children’s books promoted equality and black pride, condemned racism, and celebrated African-American culture, humor, and spirituality. He is particularly known for his dignified and insightful portrayal of ordinary black life in America from the 1920s through the 1960s. This Lincoln University graduate received many awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievements, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
Reviews and Interviews
Theater Review: 'Black Nativity' launches holiday season with spirit - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
"The Gift of Gospel" - The Observer (feature)
"Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe revives and revises Langston Hughes' 'Black Nativity'" - Sarasota Herald-Tribune (preview)
Westcoast Troupe revives and revises Langston Hughes' 'Black Nativity'