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Langston Hughes’ ‘Black Nativity’ at Walker

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The Madame Walker Theatre Center has had a tremendous 2011. The doors have been open for plays, concerts, comedy shows and motivational speaker series. To put an exclamation point on such a successful season, the Walker will showcase its first and only in-house production of the year, “The Black Nativity,” which tells the powerful story of the birth of Jesus Christ through gospel music, dance and poetry by the playwright himself, Langston Hughes.

“We’ve been blessed to cast this play with local talent,” said director Sherri Brown-Webster. “The creativity of the talent is so important to this play.”

Based on the Gospel of St. Luke, “The Black Nativity” is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its debut on Broadway in 1961 at the 41st Street Theatre.

The play was one of the first written by an African-American to be staged on Broadway. Brown-Webster said the Walker is honoring the anniversary by telling the story back in 1961.

Another fun twist to the play is that instead of casting actors to play the Wise Men, seven local pastors have been cast including Terry A. Webster Sr., pastor of Nu Corinthian Baptist Church; Calvin Allen, pastor of New Light Missionary Baptist Church; and Damon Love, pastor of Empowerment Worship Service, among others.

“It’s scripted but they get to preach a little bit,” said Brown-Webster. “We wanted to incorporate local churches because in my eyes, pastors are wise men.”

Since “The Black Nativity” is written by Hughes, much of the play is in poetic form, which also makes it unique. Another creative aspect, likely in part because Hughes was a poet and not known as a playwright, is that he leaves the stage design and much of the creative aspect to the director.

Brown-Webster calls such creative leeway, “a welcomed opportunity.”

“I really enjoyed it because I was able to be creative,” she said. “The challenge for me was doing a play I had never seen before and hadn’t heard any of the music.”

Still, Brown-Webster says she tried to create “The Black Nativity” as close to the original play as possible even using most of the original music and poetry.

“There is a hunger for Black theater and Black entertainment, and it’s so exciting that this play is at the Walker,” said Brown-Webster. “This play will pull together the community and hopefully this is the beginning for more theater at the Walker.”

 

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