Sunday, December 12, 2010
Theater review: Black Nativity at Bishop Arts Theater Center in Dallas
The welcomed holiday tradition runs through December 19.
If you have never attended a performance at the Bishop Arts Theater Center, Black Nativity is definitely a reason to visit this south Dallas theater. Written by legendary Black Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, the musical retells the classic nativity story.
Black Nativity is a glorious celebration of African American culture and a breathtakingly melodic recount of the birth of Jesus Christ. From the opening line, this adaptation — from the TeCo Theater troupe and featuring Dallas’ own classically trained African American divas, New Art Six — captivates the mind and stirs the soul.
As originally written, the performance features a menagerie of song, prose, and pantomime, making the entire show a bountiful feast for the eyes and the ears. In the spirit of artistic license, many of the songs deviate from the original song-play; however, this does not detract from the beauty or the intent of the story to uplift and rejoice. From the manger to the pulpit, Narrator Cynthia Dorn Navarrete, actress and director of New Art Six, leads the audience through each scene, first as the prophetic witness to the birth of Jesus and later as the charismatic preacher, witnessing before the joyous (church) members in the pews and the theater audience.
The pantomimed performance of Joseph and Mary — played by Brandon Deon Dillard and Crystal Poole — silently highlights the struggles and extreme desperation that the biblical couple must have felt as they earnestly sought shelter before the impending birth of the blessed child. In his debut performance at TeCo, Dallas native Bryant Collins’ solo of “Little Drummer Boy” brings to life both the curiosity and the consciousness of the young shepherd boy, realizing that a miracle lay before him.
As the song-play advances, each of the actors and actresses continue to awe, amaze, and even amuse the audience. From the “ribbing” of the “no good shepherd” — a scene reminiscent of modern-day water cooler conversation — to the gut wrenching solos of praise and testimony in the church scene, audience members are moved to laughter and joy. Alisa Alexander transforms herself from town gossip as she announces the birth of Christ to any and all that will listen.
The women of New Art Six provide a surprisingly different twist on this song-play, originally entrenched with a deep folksy tone. From the dramatically deep contralto voice of Linda Hall Searight (featured soloist and tenured 35 year Public School Instructor) to the agilely light Lyric Coloratura voice of Glenda Cole (soloist and DISD instructor), along with the melodious voices of Dorothy Regina Powell, mezzo-soprano and Gale Washington, lyric soprano, the quartet transcended audience members beyond their seats and into Bethlehem.
Black Nativity has been a staple performance for TeCo since it first arrived in the Bishop Arts district back in 2008. The performance runs through December 19 and is a welcomed holiday tradition.
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