“Black Nativity" at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre -- December 9 through 11.

Friday, December 9, through Sunday, December 11

Playcrafters Barn Theatre, 4950 35th Avenue, Moline IL

A celebrated seasonal event described by DC Metro Theater Arts as “an exhilarating must-see” and “a pulse-pounding pageant full of talent and praise,” Langston Hughes' iconic Black Nativity enjoys a December 9 through 11 run at Moline's Playcrafters Barn Theatre, its presentation by Creative Resources sure to prove why the Maryland Theatre Guide deemed it “a celebration of life and spirit that is at once essential and timely.”

A play with songs by the great African-American author and social activist Hughes, who based his work on the narrative of the birth of Jesus as told in the Gospels, the two-act Black Nativity was intended to be performed by an all-Black cast. Hughes subsequently enriched the Gospel text with his own poetic gifts and Negro spirituals. The first act relates the familiar stories surrounding Christ’s birth: no room at the inn, the shepherds watching their flock, the visiting Magi. The storytelling is ceremonial and reverent, yet also boasts levity and wit, with Hughes inserting such Christmas carols as “Joy to the World," "O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” The second act, which explores a different time in which the reason why the Nativity celebration is spiritually important in these times, employs gospel spirituals such as “Holy Ghost,” “Changed,” “Be Grateful,” and “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody."

With Hughes best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, Black Nativity 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 show went on to be performed annually in Boston, Massachusetts, at various locations including the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, Boston Opera House, Tremont Temple, Roxbury Community College, and Emerson College's Paramount Theater. Considered the longest-running production of Hughes' work, that latter production found 160 singers arranged on-stage by age group and vocal range, and also boasted an assortment of soloists, a narrator, the figures of Mary and Joseph, musicians, & American Sign Language interpreters.

Following Black Nativity's North American debut, the stage piece traveled overseas and caused an immediate sensation at the Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto, Italy. A New York Times critic reporting from Spoleto wrote, "Sophisticated Italian audiences greeted Black Nativity with enthusiasm, taking part in the singing and hand clapping and insisting on curtain call after curtain call." Roman newspaper Il Tempo, meanwhile, revealed, "The elegant festival public appeared to have forgotten itself, lost in this rhythmic wave that overwhelmed it, an integral part itself that bound stage and auditorium in a mystical fusion." Consequent productions of Black Nativity in London, Oslo, Brussels, Copenhagen, and Rotterdam were similar triumphs before its return to New York and the then-new Lincoln Center. Designed for its creative team to add the music of their choice ranging from spirituals to traditional carols or original compositions, Black Nativity was also adapted into a 2013 film directed by Kasi Lemmons, and featured a star-filled cast that included Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, and Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson.

Black Nativity will be presented at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre from December 9 through 11, with featured cast members including Sherwin Robinson Sr., Barbara Robinson-Lagarde, Sharon Cumberbatch, Rossetta Hickman, Yvonne Miller, Marcus King Jr., Austin Peckenschnieder, Cornelius Miller,  Dante Turner, Shawn Bolton, Becky Mikell, Pam Woods, Sharita Couch, Tracy Harrelson, Tracy Bates, David Cumberbatch, and show producer/director Joseph Obelton. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday; admission is $20; more information is available by contacting Obleton at (563-650)2636 and obletonsrj@gmail.com; and tickets are available by calling (309)762-0330 and visiting Playcrafters.com.

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