Theater Review: The Justice Theater Project’s Praiseworthy ‘Black Nativity’ Delivers a Joyful Noise

There is something so smile-worthy about The Justice Theatre Project’s Black Nativity, it’s divine.

Traditional African American spirituals are loosely woven together with Langston Hughes’ poetry in a retelling of the birth of Jesus. The play premiered off-Broadway in 1961 and inspired a Gospel-Christmas album, documentary, and film. Hughes called Black Nativity a Gospel song-play, and structured it in such a way that companies like The Justice Theatre Project could put their own spin on it.

Director Dr. Asabi (Stephanie Howard) has assembled a large, multigenerational cast led by a stunning Zora Umeadi (Angel), warm Jasmine Logan (Mary), and a charismatic Antwan Hawkins (Joseph). Each delivers strong vocals, including Umeadi’s rendition of “In the Presence of a King,” Hawkins’ version of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” and Logan’s stirring delivery of the popular contemporary Christian ballad “I Can Only Imagine.”  But the most stellar vocals come from the choir and soloists CoCo McMillan, Taufiki Lee, and Wanda Holloway in the latter half of the show. And all of these musical numbers are accompanied by a band of six under the direction of Michael D. Williams, whose arrangements spotlight traditional rhythms and orchestral instruments.

The fusing together of joyful noise with Toya Chinfloo and Kristi V. Johnson’s high-energy choreography and Pamela A. Bond’s colorful costumes and wax prints, make this Black Nativity a feast for the senses.

There is a sweetness and genuineness to this adrenaline-filled show that is praiseworthy. It’s a welcomed respite from the hustle and bustle that consumes our lives this time of year and a not-so-subtle reminder of the reason for the season.

The Justice Theater Project production of Black Nativity runs through December 17th at Stewart Theatre (North Carolina State). Discounted tickets are available. For more information visit or the RDU on Stage Calendar page.

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