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Black Nativity returns to the Marcus Center 'For the Culture,' celebrating Black life

Christmas Nativity Scene black silhouette on blue-red background
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Christmas Nativity Scene

The stage play produced by Black Arts, MKE, Black Nativity, is back in Milwaukee for its sixth year, running at the Marcus Performing Arts Center December 9-12.

Black Nativity, originally written by poet and playwright Langston Hughes, is the retelling of the traditional Nativity story from an African American perspective. It first opened off-Broadway in 1961, and it's one of the first plays written by an African American to do so.

Just days before Black Nativity is set to open at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, the cast ran through their lines and musical numbers during the sound check. The first musical number was "Joy to the World."

According to director Dimonte Henning, Black Nativity is rich with Gospel music. Henning said because of the connection that the genre has to Black culture, it's an aspect that makes the play uniquely Black.

"As we all know, the Gospel music is very rich and very prominent in the African American community. We use Gospel music, which was previously called Negro Spirituals, as a way to connect to God during slavery. So the Gospel music is rich in this production. As well as Langston Hughes — his words, his poetry — is very prevalent in this show. And it’s just paying homage to the Black community," Henning said.

Teran Powell's full conversation with Black Nativity director, Dimonte Henning.

Henning said this version of the play takes place in Milwaukee, not Bethlehem.

He said Milwaukee is represented in the cast, all of whom are from the city, in the ad libs, and even in the set design.

"We have a nice overpass that has different graffiti elements, that if you look closely, you’ll be like, 'Oh! I recognize that. That looks like the art museum sculpture,' and things of that nature," Henning said.

Henning said this year’s show will be different from what people have seen in the past. For example, the new theme this year is "For the Culture." Henning explained what that means to him.

"Celebrating Black life and being unapologetically Black in this country, in this city. It’s a great feeling when Black people can come together and just...be ourselves," Henning said. "And that’s what we want to do in this production. We want the culture, Black culture, to shine in our choreography, in our staging, in our music, in our acting, and our poetry."

Henning said Black Nativity is a Black narrative, but the show is for everyone. And he encourages people from all cultural backgrounds to see it.

"What I hope people get away from it is the sense of having faith in God and in Jesus, having faith in yourself, and understanding that the minute you walk out that door, your life may not be different from when you walked in that door, but you know that you have a better understanding of the people in your community," Henning said.

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