On Friday of this week (Dec. 7), the annual production of “The Black Nativity” will return to Boston for its 48th year. Performers will put on 12 productions of Langston Hughes’s retelling of the original Christmas story through Dec. 23 at the Paramount Theatre in Boston.
Produced by the National Center of Afro-American Artists, this is the longest running production of the Hughes adaptation. More than 75 actors, musicians, and dancers of all ages participate in the show, giving new voice to the poetry and music that Hughes created.
Carrie N. Lee, a Dorchester resident, began her experience with “Black Nativity” as an eight year old when her mother, Carrie Mims-Lee, followed the advice of an elementary school music teacher and signed her up for an audition. Young Carrie quickly showed her spitfire spirit, wowing directors “with her big voice.”
Impressed, her mother joined the production alongside her daughter.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw the play,” said Carrie Mims-Lee. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I thought that everyone should see this play.”
After taking a few years off, mother and daughter have returned to the production this year. “Sometimes you’ve got to give back to your community,” said Carrie N. Lee. The show “put so much into us, and we said, you know, we feel as though we want to give back.” She added: “Being in ‘Black Nativity’ you get real gospel singing, you get that feeling that emotion that something wonderful is happening to you. That connection, the music does that for me.”
Her mother values the holiday story itself and the beautiful way in which is unrolls on stage. “It just sets you up for the Christmas spirit,” she said. “Once you see the play, it just brings everything back to you about why Christ was born and how he died for us.”
Ashley Villard, a 21-year-old resident of Mattapan, is a notable presence as the show’s narrator. She has been involved in “Black Nativity” since elementary school. Learning from older mentors and creative minds whom she has worked with in the production, Villard honed her singing and performance skills while discovering a depth of passion for her work on stage.
She has participated in the production each year and the people working with her - including some neighbors from Dorchester and Mattapan - became like “family” to her.
“I felt like just the music and you know being together actually kept me there because I appreciated the spirit and how everybody kept everything so alive,” said Villard. “When I see the play, from my point of view, I just see togetherness and unity and everybody coming together to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Some people might have their own point of view and their own experience with the Lord. It’s a very extraordinary play because it gives lessons and brings happiness to a lot of people.”
“Black Nativity” will run from Dec. 7 to Dec. 23 with tickets priced at $47.50, $40, and $35. For ticket and group sales information, visit blacknativity.org or call the Paramount Center Box Office at 617-824-8000.