Written and directed by Fay Brake, The First Christmas, performed recently at Shiloh Baptist Church of Landover, speaks to the essence of Christmas – inspiring its audience to remember that Jesus is the reason people throughout the World celebrate this revered holiday. Filled with inspiring Christmas carols, liturgical dance and poignant performances, The First Christmas is a wondrous gift for audience members of all ages.
The First Christmas follows the story of a non-Christian youth named Britney (the gifted JyNelle Phillips), who attends a rehearsal of a play about the birth of Jesus. There she meets director-within-the-play Ms. Williams (played by the always excellent Angela Coles), who introduces a number of scenes from the play-within-the-play that tell the Nativity Story.
I loved the interplay between the Biblical Mary and Joseph, played by the fantastic Antoinette Blackwell and Samuel Lewis. Blackwell brought a sly innocence to her role. Lewis played Joseph as a young man smitten with his betrothed and amazed about the path laid out for them by God.
So good was guest actor Amos Hamrick, he nearly broke the eighth commandment when he commited scene theft as Caesar. Hamrick has an awesome stage presence and attention-grabbing voice. His scene with Preston (PJ) Jackson’s Roman centurion was dynamite.
There were several unforgettable performances throughout. The spectacular Mark Heath, who played Jesus, had an emotional scene with the always on-time Beverly Duncan’s Crippled Woman.
The show featured many outstanding solos. Sons of Shiloh member Gregory Benjamin, a tenor, had a magnificent solo in the Temptations-style “Silent Night.” Min. Michelle Reynolds performed a gorgeous solo in “Mary Did You Know.” Leading up to the performance, the Praise Team turned “Joy” by Kirk Franklin into Christmas magic. The Praise Team consists of Sarah Denise Brown-Kittrell, Asheley Jenkins, and Nicole Jenkins; and the Sons of Shiloh consists of Benjamin, Greg Brown (who also lent his commanding voice to the voice of the angel Gabriel), Christopher Hill, Kenny Lampkins, Brandon Myers, and James Price.
Choreographers Zannesha Booker, Ingrid Naughton, and Venus Shannon helped bring many inspiring dance numbers to the show. The Combined Dance Ministry danced angelically to songs such as “Procession of the Levites,” “Go Gabriel,” and “Christmas Star” by Gospel artists Richard Smallwood, Fred Hammond and CeCe Winans respectively.
The Combined Dance Ministry consists of July Butler, Aaliyah Francis, Shirley Heath, Amaya Hill, Skylar Jackson, Neveah LeVere, Antionette Morton, Lauryn Peters, Kelsey Shannon, Shelby Shannon, Brianna Thompson, Kaiya Walker, Kiarra Wilson-Walker, Ava Young and Darlee Yong.
The dancing and the singing were supported by Musical Director Asheley Jenkins’ musicians, including Dennis Brownlee, Ashley Powell and James Price on keyboards; Brandon Myers on drums; Karyn Thomas and Kaiya Walker on flute; Gabriel Andino on tenor saxophone; Andre Grant on trombone and Noel Fitz Mason on trumpet.
The Biblical costumes set a good historical tone, thanks to Wardrobe Designers Margie Bennett and Sheila Jackson. The Dance Ministry’s white costumes made the dance moves stand out. The Lighting Crew of Antwan Benjamin and Emmanuel Heath gave the show timely spotlight work. The First Christmas is a journey through the story of Jesus, told with song and dance – a gift for families everywhere.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The First Christmas played December 17, 2017 at the Music and Drama Ministry performing at Shiloh Baptist Church of Landover – 8801 Ardwick Ardmore Road, in Landover, MD. For tickets to future performances at Shiloh Baptist Church of Landover call 301-772-7333.