by Ashley Rhame and S.Hale
The musical “Black Nativity,” one of the most popular showcases during the Christmas season, was no exception when performed this year throughout the area.
The timeless work, written by poet Langston Hughes, has since been modified by people around the world through their own testimonies of the story of Christ’s everlasting love.
The show was originally performed off Broadway over 50 years ago. However, the Broadway worthy production of “Black Nativity” held December 16 &17 at First Christian Church, downtown, had many area pastors and community members packing the house for both shows.
The play was creatively adapted and directed by Bernadette “BJ” Brown owner of So Sophizticated Soundz Productionz, a Community ARTSreach Works project. The play skillfully depicted the Birth of Christ, making it relevant to modern-day Christians while filling every heart in the room with her incredible and soul-stirring voice.
The cast in Afrocentric clothing, was mostly made up of youth Birth of Christ through the lives of Mary and Joseph as the age-old biblical story goes. Mary is pregnant as they roam endlessly searching for a place to rest and when they do, Christ is born!
The show began with the well known “Oh Magnify/Hallelujah” medley, “Searching for the Light” performed by Bernadette, herself, adding later other Black gospel classics. Act I and II were both closed in song with each and every note felt from the stage to the very last row. The audience stood and praised the Lord as if it were Sunday morning.
The youth performers ranged from preschoolers to 12th grade with some more familiar with theater than others. Narrator Leila Bryant spoke and sang gracefully as did the majority of the cast and everyone shined, keeping the spirit of the play alive. With the spectacle of vibrant costumes, passionate performances and spirit of the cast and crew, Black Nativity provided a heartfelt production for the holiday season.
Bernadette exited the stage after extending a message of encouragement to the audience to use their individual “gifts God gave them for His glory and to give back to the community.”
Also in sync with the season…
Kids of Roanoke City Parks and Recreation put on a great performance at the Preston Park elementary after-school program.
The Christmas program, Friday, Dec. 15, was coordinated by Vickie Briggs, supervisor, After-school Programs, Roanoke City Parks and Recreation. For the past month, the children took time to prepare with Coach Shandra Claytor, supervisor Mabel Morgan and Landon Williams.
The children gathered in the school cafeteria in all of their red decor and nervous energy as they took their rightful places on stage. Their smiles and energy lit up the faces of nine guests from a local assisted living facility. Staff member Landon played the piano gracefully while on Coach Shandra’s que the rec center filled with heartfelt recitings and joy as the youth sang such seasonal favorites as “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer,” and “This Christmas.”
Coach Shandra serenaded everyone with a performance of “The Christmas Song” made popular by Nat King Cole. In between each set a few students read holiday poems they practiced throughout the past couple of weeks.
Before the program ended, there was one more surprise–as gift bags were presented to the guest.
The bags were filled with handmade cards, ornaments, reefs and bird feeders created by the children assisted by Preston’s staff.
Following the program, light refreshments were served and the guests spoke of how much they appreciated the entire experience and look forward to future performances.
Children at Eureka Center After School P.L.A.Y. (Positive Learning and Adventure for Youth) celebrated their winter holiday by providing gifts of warmth and happiness to other children. The children donated hats, gloves, scarfs and canned food to the rescue Mission Ministries.
“It is one of many lessons they learn here at the center that teaches the importance of giving and how acts of kindness help to strengthen and make a difference in the lives of others,” said Dorothy Wilson, executive director of the center located in Eureka Park in northwest.
“This joyous experience inspires the children to incorporate giving and helping into their daily routine,” she added.
Wilson along with the staff take great pride in their approach to providing meticulous and personalized care given to each of the kids who attend the program.
Another display of Christmas spirit came at the Apple Ridge Charity Program held December 15 with major support from Shriners of Aladdin Temple #111.
The well-attended annual event invites kids to gather at the Shriner’s lodge on Salem Turnpike for a pizza party and gift give-away. This year, as in the past the affair was assisted by Daughters of Aladdin Court #34 who traditionally give the event a more family friendly flair–as women generally do.
“The Aladdin Temple #111 and the Daughters have been supporting Apple Ridge for 8 years Through this holiday celebration,” said John Lewis, director Apple Ridge Farm.
Lewis expressed his appreciation of the Shriner’s support over the years as they have donated such items as brand new bikes and for the last two years computer tablets.
“Kids from Apple Ridge Farm and around the community can extend their learning through reading with Amazon tablets,” he added. “They can get on line and download books and engage in research through this valuable tool. Through bikes we promote exercising the body and now with tablets we exercize the mind.”
As a special treat kids got to have their pictures taken (free) with “Soul Santa” and an extremely well-dressed clown.
First Baptist Church, Salem was the setting for one of many seasonal renditions held about town enacting the birth of Christ. The celebration involved musical and dance selections, accompanied by Skip Dunlap on piano–all wrapped around the portrayal of what some understand as “the greatest story ever told.”
Mistress of ceremony, Sister Debra Eggleston along with her FBC team of conscientious assistants molded the cast into a well-crafted display of reverence for the theme.
“Working with kids in preparation for a play is not an easy job, you have to have a love and a serious desire to want to produce a project that inspires both participants and audience as well,” said Eggleston–one of many adults who through tireless efforts work their magic molding children into stewards on a mission to deliver the true message of Christmas.