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A message of peace

‘BLACK NATIVITY’ LAUNCHES 47TH SEASON

Celina Colby | 12/6/2017, 11:12 a.m.
For the 47th year, the National Center for Afro-American Artists presents “Black Nativity,” a powerful retelling of the nativity story ...
The Children of Black Persuasion perform the song “Mary, Mary, What You Gonna’ Name Your Baby” around Kaleisha Chance as Mary and Derrick Louizia as Joseph. Mungo Creative Group

For the 47th year, the National Center of Afro-American Artists presents “Black Nativity,” a powerful retelling of the nativity story with a blend of the Gospel of Saint Luke and Langston Hughes’ poetry. Running at the Paramount Theatre through Dec. 17, the performance is a crucial celebration of community and hope during the holidays.

On the Web

For more information about

“Black Nativity” and to purchase

tickets, visit: http://blacknativity.org

The cast comprises primarily local community members, not professional performers. Two performers have been with the show all 47 runs, and one family has three generations performing together. Others have moved as far away as California, but come back each year to participate in the show. Executive Producer Voncille Ross says “Black Nativity” has been a bonding force for the cast. “We’ve been committed for so long, we’ve become a family,” she says.

Elma Lewis, founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, introduced the tradition to Boston. This year, Lewis’ great-great-niece is one of 30 children performing with the 72-member cast. “Black Nativity” has bounced around the city from Roxbury, Northeastern University and the Opera House, to its current home at Emerson’s Paramount Theatre. Ross hopes the show has found a permanent home at Emerson.

The performance is unlike Boston’s other holiday traditions. Though it follows the narrative of the birth of Jesus, the plot is almost secondary to the music and spirit of the production. Cast members walk through the audience holding candles and singing rapturous gospel tunes, they dance with wild abandon and shout call-and-response praises to each other and the audience. “Black Nativity” is imbued with a quality of rampant joy, at the season, at the community and at life, a joy that Bostonians need now more than ever.

Boston’s “Black Nativity” is the nation’s longest running production of the show. After almost a half-century with the same script, songs, and in some cases, costumes, Ross is turning her attention to keeping the show contemporary. “One of the challenges now is finding ways to liven the production so it doesn’t feel routine,” she says. This year, changes include bringing color to the traditionally white costumes and updating some of the choreography. These seemingly small changes make a big impact. The color costumes, especially, bring a visceral strength to the talented soloists.

Ross hopes the production brings good feelings to the community, regardless of race or religion. “There’s so much turmoil and bickering now,” she says. “We bring an hour and 20 minutes of hope to people. This is a message of peace.”