While reading and researching all things Langston while we were doing the run-up to our production of “Mule Bone” I was astonished that the tradition of performing “Black Nativity” had languished as a Christmas entertainment. It’s not “The Nutcracker” but surely a way to feature a series of church choirs in a community in a holiday-period run in a way that would bring audiences into a theater – and perhaps even introduce audiences to a space new to them. As usual with Hughes, the piece is doing several things at once: unifying a community and adding a time-specific political element – see links below. I tried to bring this into rotation in NY – and I still feel the piece is an excellent tradition waiting to be re-established. There are so many excellent choirs in American cities, and so many theaters. And everyone knows the songs. Lee Breuer in “The Gospel at Colonus” (a VERY different play) showed us how easy it is to invite many existing choral communities to collaborate with our theater institutions. The play is easily obtainable on Amazon.
Black Nativity is a retelling of the classic Nativity story with an entirely black cast. Traditional Christmas carols are sung in gospel style, with a few songs created specifically for the show. Originally written by Langston Hughes, the show was first performed Off-Broadway on December 11, 1961, and was one of the first plays written by an African American to be staged there.
The new movie is based on a play by the same name by Langston Hughes. Host Rachel Martin talks with director Kasi Lemmons about her new musical drama, Black Nativity, released last week.