Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new tack for Black Nativity

This year's production of Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre was new and fresh for a holiday tradition that has been on the December stage for 11 years now.

Not coincidentally, this was the first time the show was performed without the Rev. Samuel McKinney as narrator and co-parson with the Total Experience Gospel Choir's Rev. Patrinell Wright. While we missed the gravitas, the fun, and the amazing pipes that McKinney brought to Black Nativity, his "retirement" after a decade in the role may have presented an opportunity for the creative team to take the second act of the program in a new direction.

Weisenheimer found the first act slightly disappointing. This is the half that uses the words of Langston Hughes, combined with marvelous dancing and with gospel music, to tell the Christmas story. We've seen the show six or seven times now, though it's been a year, or maybe two, since the last time. It seemed this time there wasn't quite so much of the dance, and it wasn't quite so spectacular, as in years past.

The second half, however, lit up. In past years it was good church-- lots of high-octane gospel music. This time it was a bit more theatrical, with more dance numbers incorporated into Intiman's Non-denominational "service." We agree with our friend Lisa over at Dancing Again that Josphine Howell's rendition of "Alabaster Box" was most moving and inspiring, and we loved Stephanie Scott-Hatley's solos on "Get Away Jordan" and "No-Good Shepherd."

Wright was fabulous as always, though she seems to be giving more of the lead vocals to others from the capable choir. We could do without some of the patter; the "call out" of how many Lutherans, etc., are in the audience is a bit tiring. The band, too, is top notch.

G. To'mas Jones was up to the task of filling McKinney's sizeable shoes, and sang a medley with Wright that was good, though Jones doesn't have McKinney's sub-woofer. The cast paid tribute to McKinney several times during the performance, and with good reason. The long-time pastor of Mount Zion Church is certainly one of the big reasons Black Nativity has endured at Intiman for more than a decade now. Let's hope it keeps rolling without McKinney on the boards.

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