For many people this Musical has a legendary status. After the premier show 1961
in New York's 41st Street Theatre, it proceeded to a world-wide success, that seemed
to be unthinkable for a black Musical at that time. It got the unofficial second
name The black Messiah from Broadway and when an Italian impresario saw the
show, he immediately bought the whole original-cast for a European tour. What nobody
could foresee: This tour ended up to be 2 and a half years long and can be filed
after all to the biggest successes in the history of Gospel music.
Member of the original cast was at that time the legendary late Alex Bradford, who
contributed some songs and who's achievement is at big part the explosive dynamic of
that Musical. His fiancée at that time was Miss Alberta Carter, the musical
director of that play and also piano player and singer in the original cast. Kings
and Queens of England, Denmark and of the Netherlands came to ask for special shows
for the Royal Families. The big names of show biz at that time tended to visit the
show on and on and on... Among them people like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Duke
Ellington and the early Beatles, just to mention some of them.
In the seventies and eighties that Musical came to be more and more forgotten, until
the King of Gospel Music (The International Herald Tribune)
Jessy Dixon, some years before started to dig for it
again. He asked people involved in the old production an researched for material for
some years and a new European Tour started in 1997.
Looking quickly at the plot, content is a black Christmas-story, that is
followed up by a second act, which is playing in the scenery of a black church in the
ghetto of Chicago. The very subtle lyrics and acting of that story and the songs
made the way for the black movement in the sixties. In fact it can not called a
typical Christmas Musical, otherwise it would not have been played all the year
through in the sixties. Musically this play contains some of the most prominent
Gospel songs and a music that is really grooving. Played by world-class instrumentalists,
the original-instruments are going to be used. Purists will rejoice, it is a grand
piano and a Hammond B-3.
Who could nowadays visualize that dynamic better than Rev.
Jessy Dixon? The Jessy
Dixon Singers, additional vocalists and dancers of the Chicago Dance Company are part
of a world-class-cast, that can for the first time keep up with the original cast.
Very special to all involved in that project, is the fact, that
Alberta C. Bradford is doing the job of the theatre
director in that Musical. Remember: Alberta was already musical director,
piano player and singer in the original cast of 41st Street Theatre on Broadway.
She played that Musical some thousand times over the years, sometimes for more than
ten shows a week. Her band, the Stars of Faith is one of the most traditional
groups in Gospel music.
Choreography is done by Michelle Davis, from New York City.
Names are sometimes also program. It is the case with novel- and belletristic-author
Langston Hughes, a key-person of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's and one of
Americas most prominent and prolific writing artist. In the last years of his life
he took hold of gospel music to design a Musical with a very unusual content: A
Christmas-story, where the baby in the barn had no curly blond hair, but who's
origin was a black nativity. For many contemporary people he was seen as
a grumbler, who in Mexico, China, Japan and different countries of Africa supported
oppressed groups of the population. At the time of the Spanish civil war he stayed
in besieged Madrid and went 1932 for a longer period into the Soviet Union - always
facing and supporting the oppressed and rightless people. He stood in close
corporation with other writers like Zora Neale, Paul Robeson and Ernest Hemingway.
Something that was laying between scandal and sensation at that time seems not to be
so unusual today. The black churches, mostly seen as a follow-up of a white religion,
emancipated and this Play focused these developments in the American society. It
made an ideal fertile soil for the movement around Dr. Martin Luther King who built
on the contents of that Musical. Who wonders, that elements of Black Nativity
were performed in Berlin's Olympic Stadium while MLK visited Europe for the first
BLACK NATIVITY gives a glance on the atmosphere in the black US-population in the
60's. The plot is a kind of Christmas story, that shows the arrival of a
prince of peace in a cold and hard-hearted society. The one, who brings peace
has parents that are -surprise! - BLACK. Many different allegories point on white
chauvinism and its bad root. A subtle message, that was understood by black and white
audiences in the same manner. In the second act the influences of that black peace
child upon society and churches are described. It must have hurt a visionary man as
Langston Hughes to see his play disappear from the stages around the same time as
Martin Luther King was shot down.
For Jessy Dixon and Alberta Bradford
who played for MLK at processions and in services, this play has nothing to do with a
normal Christmas-musical. For both of them as most of the audiences in the 60's, who
did not dare to hope, that this play would come back on stage in an original-inscenation
and with an A-cast, it seems as if a dream comes true. It is like the fulfillment of a
dream and the fulfillment of the word, that MLK spoke long time a go I have