By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO
Literary great Langston Hughes was known for telling stories of everyday life. He captured the life of Black people through poetry, plays, and writings using common vernacular. His work inspired generations of young artists including the founders of Baltimore based ArtsCentric.
ArtsCentric, a well-established and recognized theater-in-residence at the Motor House in Baltimore, is performing Hughes’ Black Nativity. The musical drama is an African-American version of the nativity story told through song and dance. Based on the Gospel of St. Luke, it pairs the poetry of Hughes with original musical adaptations that change with each performance. It tracks the journey of Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem to the birth of Jesus, and features an array of musical selections influenced by jazz, soul, gospel, African-American spirituals and traditional carols and hymns. The cast is comprised of a group of talented locals who sing and dance with fervor, according to ArtsCentric news release.
“The show is set up in such a way that it is a vignette of songs that are put together with poetry and texts by Langston Hughes” said Sequina DuBose, director of development. “We’ve created a bit of a subplot by telling the story through the eyes of a child who is homeless, and on the street, singing for money,” Dubose told the AFRO.
“Children are growing up in a dark world. I saw this production as an opportunity to bring some light especially to the youth. We in Baltimore deal with issues of homelessness, poverty, and hunger every day. In this production, I cast a young child to move throughout the story and watch it unfold through innocent eyes. It shows how belief in the nativity story has actually changed lives. It sends a message of hope, endurance, and acceptance in the spirit of the African griot tradition passed down through generations,” said Director Kevin McAllister in a prepared statement to the AFRO.
According to ArtsCentric, musical director Cedric Lyles has taken a unique approach, quoting original melodies and elements from traditional holiday hymns and sacred selections and fusing them with newer, more modern adaptations. “Songs like ‘O Come All Ye Faithful” will combine traditional and modern styles. ‘Little Drummer Boy’ has elements of the original, but it’s completely new. Black Nativity was first a play with sacred songs from the African-American tradition. We have intentionally made a choice to take text from the original play and re-set it musically for the sake of enhanced storytelling,” Lyles said.
Black Nativity will run through Dec. 29. Information and tickets can be found on ArtsCentric’s web page.