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Black Nativity
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

Also see Bill's reviews of Who Took The Last Ketchup, Amahl and The Night Visitors and A Christmas Story


Lynette White, Amber Myers and Dibias W. Livingston
The do not miss show of the season is Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's presentation of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, being offered as a special holiday event. It has been eight years since Nate Jacobs and this company have produced it, which seems a shame to me because I come from Boston where the show is a yearly event, begun in 1969. It was first produced by Ms. Alma Lewis at her School of the Arts and now by the Center of Afro-American Artists. Families celebrate life cycles within the Boston production, people begin in the children's chorus, graduate to adult choir and sometimes named roles and then watch their children and grandchildren participate.

This version of Black Nativity is based on the concert version created by conductor-pianist Aaron Robinson. As always, WBTT fields a cast of many performers seen often on this stage, and some new faces. It is always exciting to discover a major talent who is new to me and the company, and there are several in this production. Emmanuel Avraham is the narrator and it is fun to hear him shout out passages about the baby Jesus being called Emmanuel. Artistic Director Nate Jacobs is on stage as the Lead Singer. He is a strong presence, leading the ensemble in many numbers and soloing on "My Way is Cloudy," "What a Mighty Day" and "My Grownup Christmas List," among others. Tarra Conner jones, new to the company, is blessed with a mighty voice which sent me scurrying to a thesaurus to find words to describe it, but I came up empty. She sings "Hail Mary" as the Archangel as well as "There's No Hiding Place" and "We need a Revival" with Nate and the company. She galvanizes the ensemble all through the show.

Two young people make a welcome return to the WBTT stage: Christopher Eisenberg, grown into early manhood and with a Billy Eckstine bass-baritone voice; and Alyssa White, with a new smoky jazz voice. He solos on "Christmas Means Love" in the revival scene, set in present times as a way to give opportunities to various cast members, and she is featured in "Don't Save it All for Christmas Day." Amber Kristen Myers, who has been in several previous WBTT productions of Black Nativity, is featured as Mary opposite Dibias W. Livingston as Joseph. She solos on "You are Wonderful" and "Breath of Heaven," one of my favorite lesser known Christmas songs. Lynette White, no relation to Alyssa I am told, has a marvelous cameo early on as Elizabeth, an older lady who mentors Mary and sings "Shout for Joy." Charlie Melton solos on "I've Found the King of Kings" and "Up Above My Head." Arnette German is also in the ensemble. The show is choreographed by Donald Frison who with Derric Gobourne, Jr. Chakara Rosa and Joshua Thompson bring a new level of excitement, dance-wise to this production. Nate Jacobs has done his usual superlative job as director. The simple Scenic Design by Steve Patmagrian is effective, Costumes by Cristy Owen are very colorful with an African influence. Lighting is designed by Michael Pasquini. James E. Dodge II is Production Manager and Music Director on Bass. He is assisted by J.L. Cash, Jr. on Keyboard and John Walker on Percussion. The band under James E. Dodge II always rocks the house, one of the greatest assets of this company. Juanita Munford* is Production Stage Manager, and Annette Breazeale is Property Master.

Tickets for this show are almost all sold out. My recommendation would be to subscribe to next season in the hopes of securing seats for next year.

Cast:
Narrator: Emmanuel Avraham
Singer/Ensemble: Christopher Eisenberg
Dancer: Donald Frison
Ensemble: Arnette German
Dancer: Derric Gobourne, Jr.
Lead Singer: Nate Jacobs*
Archangel: Tarra Conner jones*,br>Joseph: Dibias W. Livingston
Ensemble: Charlie Melton
Mary/Ensemble: Amber Kristen Myers
Dancer: Chakara Rosa
Dancer: Joshua Thompson
Singer/Ensemble: Alyssa White
Ensemble: Lynette White

Black Nativity, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through December 21, 2014, at 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.


Photo: DonDalyPhoto.com

--William S. Oser



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