Pro Arts Collective's 'Black Nativity' celebrates the season with a gospel flavor
Tired of the umpteenth permutation of Scrooge and Tiny Tim? Can't stand watching Mr. Potter rag on George Bailey again? Don't think you can handle another rendition of "White Christmas"? Then why not try something a little different this holiday season? Along with that Christmas service you'll attend where the couple next door throw on some robes and carry a swaddled Baby Nurse 'n' Wet down the aisle of the church while the congregation joins in a rousing rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful," why not raise the roof a bit? Why not try a black nativity?
Pro Arts Collective, Austin's only theatre company focusing exclusively on African-American culture, is presenting the Austin premiere of this Langston Hughes "Gospel Song-Play" at Hyde Park Theatre. "Somebody sent this script to me about 10 years ago," says Pro Arts Artistic Director Boyd Vance. "It's nativity kind of 'blacktified.' The first act covers the nativity story with songs that focus on Christmas, like 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' and 'Joy to the World.' You've also got some Negro spirituals like 'Mary Had a Baby' and 'Sweet Little Jesus Boy.' Hughes lifted a lot of excerpts from the Bible, you know, those little feel-good pieces like, 'And it came to pass in those days when ...' and 'You'll find a babe wrapped in ...,' so you've got the story and the songs.
"The second act is basically a church service. Now, I don't want people to come in thinking we're going to be preaching sin and damnation, because that's not what we're about. What we're about is some really great interpretations of African-American sacred music. It's like gospel music, and there's tremendous diversity in it. Gospel's not always roof-raisin'. Gospel really means 'good news,' and there are wonderful subtleties in it -- some gospel is slow and really moving; some of it, you want to get up and shout; and some of it is really beautiful. So one of our goals is to show the variety in gospel. I want to keep it real user-friendly. I want to keep it light.
"The show has been typical African-American fare for various regional theatres, like the Penumbra and the Intiman, for years, but this is the Austin premiere, so we think this one's special. Fourteen African-Americans singing very loudly and beautifully in a small space in an intimate setting with live music. It's pretty jubilant."
Jubilation! Joy! Good news! Certainly everybody can use more than a little bit of that -- during the holidays or any time of year.
Black Nativity runs through Dec. 21 at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd. For information, call 474-TIXS.