The story of Jesus being born in a manger will come to life with music, song and dance in "Black Nativity," presented Dec. 19-21 by the Performing Arts Collective of Savannah.
PAC is a company comprised of the Abeni Cultural Arts Dance Studio, co-founded by Muriel Miller and Darowe McMillon; the Eastside Players, co-founded by Rodney Creech and Gary and Priscilla Swindell; and the Spitfire Poetry Group, co-founded by the late Clinton D. Powell and Ralph "Renazance" Dillard.
This is the fifth year the production has been presented. It retells St. Luke's story of the birth of Christ, with Jesus being born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.
Gary Swindell is doing musical direction and co-directing the play with McMillon, and Miller and Darrell Davis are doing choreography. Marquice Williams, president of Spitfire Poetry Group, is also on the production team.
The production is dedicated to the memory of Powell, who died unexpectedly in January 2011.
"We hope to continue the tradition of performing 'Black Nativity' every year just like other companies perform 'The Nutcracker,'" says Miller, who is the artistic director of both PAC and Abeni. "We will always try to do the show around Mr. Powell's birthday because he meant so much to so many people in the community, and what better way to pay tribute than to perform his last directed play year after year?"
The play was written by Langston Hughes.
"The first act is the journey of Mary and Joseph leading up to the birth of Jesus," McMillon says. "It's a different take on it as we really tell the story with the music.
"You'll know what the mood is just by listening to the songs. Each one is made to fit the situation.
"The second act is set in present day in a church," he says. "This section acts not only as part of the play, but actually a praise and worship event where the audience is encouraged to participate. We sometimes break out of character and for lack of a better phrase, we 'go to church.'"
"Black Nativity" began with a conversation between Powell and Miller, who both wanted to do something special for the Christmas season that could be presented every year.
"(We wanted) to start a new Christmas tradition that would be just as great as any Nutcracker ballet," Miller says. "'Black Nativity' is a family-friendly show that everyone should come to see."
The show features a large cast.
"We have about 50 in the cast, ranging from 1 month on up," McMillon says. "We always start rehearsing in October on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, until a couple weeks before the performance, then we run all week."
The show is open to all.
"Come and be entertained," McMillon says. "Come have fun and enjoy this great, grand show. It speaks for itself.
"This is a very unique production that is very out-of-the-box, but at the same time, stays closely rooted to the original vision of Langston Hughes," he says. "Plus, you get to see professional level talent that was bred right here in Savannah."