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Performing Arts Weekly 11.24

Nov. 22, 2016
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Black Nativity

Black Arts MKE @ Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Dec. 1-11 

Black Nativity is a gospel song play by the great American novelist, poet, playwright and social activist Langston Hughes (1902-1967). It’s a fine example of Hughes’ internalization of that love affair with “beautiful language.” While remaining largely faithful to Hughes’ original work, director Malkia Stampley also contemporizes certain elements to enhance Black Nativity’s overall impact on and relevance to modern audiences. “Black Nativity is an opportunity to use our recent stories to represent the storytellers—our neighbors, leaders, future leaders, everyday working folks, activists, warriors and friends—who desire to tell the good news of hope,” Stampley explains. “These same people have stories of those who have overcome all odds to be the light and catalyst for change in their communities.”

Co-producer Barbara Wanzo adds that Black Nativity is “becoming a new holiday tradition in Milwaukee, and we’re proud to continue to showcase the incredible talent in this community.” Indeed, it already is a holiday staple in many cities around the country; in Boston, for example, Black Nativity has been performed annually all the way back to 1969. 

Three cast members of last year’s Milwaukee production of Black Nativity return this year. Krystal Drake, who played Mary last season, is a shepherd this time around, and Tosha Freeman and Syd Robinson (the latter playing Joseph in last year’s production) are now part of the ensemble cast. Hence, with a new director’s edgy vision and fresh faces sprinkled liberally throughout the cast, this December’s Black Nativity will surely look and sound quite different than last year’s. And why not? Things in our country have certainly changed a great deal over the past year. (John Jahn) 

Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams

In Tandem Theatre @ Tenth Street Theatre, Dec. 1-Jan. 8, 2017

In Tandem Theatre offers a long run with 29 individual performances of Anthony Wood and Mondy Carter’s Holiday Hell. The cast features Adam Estes, who has previously appeared on both Milwaukee and Chicago stages (the former with Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Skylight Music Theatre and Milwaukee Opera Theatre) and Zach Woods, who has performed with First Stage, Skylight, Theater Red and Splinter Group. Holiday Hell is a comedic-nostalgic musical play set in 1957 America. (John Jahn)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Sunset Playhouse @ Furlan Auditorium, Dec. 1-23

Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever was acclaimed by The Seattle Times as “one of the best Christmas stories ever—and certainly one of the funniest.” Given the plethora of dramatic and comedic holiday-themed stage works, that’s quite a compliment! The plot revolves around a couple endeavoring to produce an annual church pageant: a fraught situation to begin with, made all the more so given that they’re forced to work with boisterous bullies who prove quite anathema to the Christmas story. (John Jahn) 

This is Our Youth

ENT Theatre @ The Underground Collaborative, Dec. 2-3; Dec. 7-11

Set in Manhattan during the Reagan Era, This is Our Youth is a comedic play about adolescence and growing up in the big city; it revolves around friends Dennis and Warren and their visitor, Jessica. Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 and made its way to the Broadway stage two years ago. The production by the new ENT Theatre Company is directed by Jamie Cheatham, former head of acting at UW-Parkside and currently such at Marquette University. (John Jahn)

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