“Black Nativity” includes African dancing and drumming, as well as traditional hymns. The show runs through Dec. 20. CONTRIBUTED

‘Black Nativity’ tries to appeal to age groups from students to seniors

The students and senior citizens at a recent matinee performance of the gospel musical “Black Nativity” danced, swayed and sang along with performers in this classic holiday show now playing at Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta.

For many of the seniors, it was a welcome day out at the theater that wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of Robert John Connor, the show’s director. Connor donates dozens of tickets to Atlanta senior citizens through the Mayor’s Office Constituent of Services each year. And he makes sure students are exposed to the show, too.

“The patrons are incredibly appreciative because a lot of times, they don’t get a chance to get out and to see theater. A lot of times, they are not able to get out at night because of lack of transportation or just lack of comfort being out at night,” he said. “As the production grew, it was important to me to add both weekend and weekday matinees so these senior groups and even student groups can get to the show.”

Students at Arlington Christian School, a private Douglas County school, and from New Manchester High School’s Fine Arts Magnet program, also in Douglas County, attended last week’s matinee. This week, students at some of Atlanta’s public and private schools will attend the show.

“When I developed this version of the show, it was important to me that there were elements of the show that would appeal to the broad spectrum in cultures and age groups that are going to come to the show,” Connor said. “You will have your traditional hymns, that speak more to a generation of the past, but then you’ll have more contemporary-sounding music; and of course, the African drumming and the dancing that is more appealing to the younger generation.”

All but two of this year’s 32 cast members are Atlanta area performers. And there are some big names in the production, too. Lead actress Margo Moorer played the maid in “Forrest Gump” and was more recently featured in the movies “Selma, Lord, Selma” and “LBJ.” The show’s bass player, Justin Raines, is an internationally known musician.

For LaDoris Bias-Davis of Decatur, who was attending the show, “Black Nativity” is an annual must-see event. “I love the African dancing. That just kind of sets the mood for everything. Then all of the singing. But my favorite is ‘Mary Did You Know.’ That’s one of my favorite songs in the world.”

Robert John Connor, the director of the gospel musical “Black Nativity,” donates dozens of tickets to Atlanta senior citizens through the Mayor’s Office Constituent of Services each year, and the schedule is made to accommodate student groups, too. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Connor’s production company, Dominion Entertainment Group, has been producing “Black Nativity” in Atlanta since 2012. The director says he hopes audience members are reminded of the real reason for the season.

“I want them to come in thinking that they are going to be entertained and walk out being penetrated by what the true purpose is for those of us who are Christians. … Because we’ve gotten so commercial and so pagan about what Christmas and other holidays are that we’ve lost touch with that meaning.

“Precociously, I want to blur the line between theater and a spiritual experience.”

SHOW PREVIEW

“Black Nativity”

Through Dec. 20. 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and Dec. 20; 8 p.m. Dec. 15-16; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 17; 4 p.m. Dec. 18. $25-$50. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta. www.blacknativityatlanta.com.

RELATED: Which holiday favorites you’ll find on stages around metro Atlanta

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