“Black Nativity” – Black Theatre Troupe


Black Theatre Troupe, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

A holiday surprise comes from the Black Theatre Troupe’s entertaining but richly enlightening “Black Nativity.”  “Black Nativity” looks at the way American Blacks interpret Christ’s birth.  They developed their unique observations that utilize traditional themes and music but also provide distinctive soulful tunes that tweaks in their story.

“Black Nativity’s” first act looks at the conventional Christmas story interpreted with straightforward earnestness as many traditional carols are presented with different sounds coming from dynamic re-orchestrations.

“Black Nativity’s” second act is a more culturally exclusive telling of the Savior’s birth complete with fresh songs that may not have been previously heard.  Top off the interesting story approach and the moving musical presentations with a top-notch cast of remarkable performers who execute David Hemphill’s fast-paced staging with assured perfection.

Oh, all right, a critic can never stop finding little things that could improve any show and there are a few things that can easily be glossed and shined in future stagings.  Five children are used throughout the production but the kids aren’t as polished and professional as the adult performers.  Part of the problem stems from a decision to give the adult performers body microphones so each word and song lyric is clearly heard.  The kids don’t have body mics and, with their small voices fighting live but heavily amplified music and competing with the sound reinforced adult cast, the kids couldn’t be heard.

And the youngest child performer couldn’t help being a real ham.  Not only did he mouth every adult singers’ lyric when he was on stage, he also decided during another performer’s solo to pull up his socks in a showy display.  While cute and funny, his antics distracted audiences from the singer.

But this is picky criticism especially when Nancy Taylor sings “Go Tell It on The Mountain” stirringly in the first act and stops the show’s second act with a gut-wrenching “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  Sarina Martinez de Osaba’s Mary is performed with rich choreography and every adult performer are polished singers and move comfortably.  The live but unseen combo plays sprightly musical renditions.  Brightly festive costumes use color to comment on the story, and a multi-level unit set serves the show’s myriad of locations effectively.

“Black Nativity” paints a unique version of Christ’s birth and includes much traditional African-American music that makes this holiday show anything but traditional.  “Black Nativity” continues through Sunday, December 18.  To order tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or order tickets online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: B