‘Black Nativity’ at Theatre Horizon in Norristown, PA

With an original twist on the classic Christmas story, Horizon Theatre’s joyful Black Nativity overflows with exuberance and heart. The book and songs are a combination of classic Christmas classics as “Joy to the World,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” gospel songs, and Poet Langston Hughes’ beautiful words. Act I tells the story of Jesus’ birth, ingeniously mirrored in Act II by the faith and human resilience seen post-Katrina in New Orleans.

Kingsley Ibeneche (Joseph) and Sanchel Brown (Mary), and the cast of 'Black Nativity.' at Theatre Horizon in Norristown. Photo courtesy of Matthew J. Photography.
Kingsley Ibeneche (Joseph) and Sanchel Brown (Mary), and the cast of ‘Black Nativity.’ at Theatre Horizon in Norristown. Photo courtesy of Matthew J. Photography.

Written in 1961, Black Nativity is considered a ‘Gospell Song Play.’ According to The African America Registry, it is “an expression of Hughes’ late-in-life interest in African-American spirituality and the oral traditions of the African-American church.”

Under Ozzie Jones’ loving direction, two acts set in two entirely different times and places come together as one. Will Brocks’ beautiful arrangements and musical direction are executed beautifully by the multi-talented cast and fabulous musicians.

The energetic choreography by Jenn Rose is both striking and athletic, pulling from many different forms of dance. The lifts executed by Sanchel Brown and Kingsley Ibeneche are incredibly impressive. The dance sections are a blast, though I may be biased because I got pulled up on stage and got to join in on the fun.

The energy level of this cast is incomparable. While delivering their strong vocals they are also having a blast in their dance solos and high energy scenes, while still delivering heart-wrenching performances.

Candace Benson wows with incredible vocals and intense emotional scenes throughout. Joining her are: Nastassja Baset, Will Brock III, Adam Hoyak, Angelica Jackson, Timotheus “Moe” Peay, Kayla Tarpley, and Devon Eric Taylor, Sanchel Brown, and Kingsley Ibeneche. Each ensemble member possesses a beautiful voice and are fine actors and dancers.

Janus Stefanowicz’s eye-popping costumes change as the play does. Act I’s costumes are vivid, beautiful patterns juxtaposed with Act II’s black and white basics, both continuing to look beautiful throughout the insane amount of movement.

Candace Benson. Photo by Matthew J Photography.
Candace Benson. Photo by Matthew J Photography.

Set design by Brian Dudkiewicz is made up of flats with vibrant, beautiful colors and shapes. In Act II, these four pieces come together to form one unified creation, suiting the action in the plot.

Alyssadra Docherty’s lighting matches the color of the rest of the design while working in tandem with Steven P. Nemphos’ projections, specifically successfully with the lightning effect during the storm scene.

With smart direction, a powerhouse cast, divine singing and dancing, and boundless energy, Black Nativity will fill you with the Christmas Spirit. Every member of your family should experience this holiday treat.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Black Nativity plays through December 13, 2015 at Theatre Horizon – 401 DeKalb Street, in Norristown, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 283-2230, extension 1, or purchase them online.

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