There will be no shortage of soul folk at Black Nativity this year. Penumbra Theatre Company artistic director Lou Bellamy has outdone himself, snagging Broadway veteran and Grammy winning recording artist Jennifer Holliday to headline the show. With the Nov. 7 announcement, people throughout the community quickly put this show on their calendar of Kwannza and Christmas activities. There will be no shortage of soul folk at Black Nativity this year. Penumbra Theatre Company artistic director Lou Bellamy has outdone himself, snagging Broadway veteran and Grammy winning recording artist Jennifer Holliday to headline the show. With the Nov. 7 announcement, people throughout the community quickly put this show on their calendar of Kwannza and Christmas activities.
With good reason. Jennifer Holliday, one of the most recognizable names in musical theater, is the hottest stage performer to hit town since Samuel E. Wright graced the world premiere of The Lion King. Over just short of three decades, Holliday has sustained a career that is truly legendary. An auspicious debut in Vinette Carrol's Your Arm's Too Short to Box With God (at age 17) alerted New York producers that a major talent had emerged in their midst. Sure enough, at 21, Holliday cast as the lead in Dreamgirls stopped the show on a dime every night, singing, "And I'm Telling You" which fast became her signature song. To this day, it still will be a long time before any vocalist dares attempt a cover rendition. Among her other chart-topping hits are "I Am Love," Just Let Me Wait," "I'm On Your Side," the Ashford & Simpson-penned "This Game of Love (I'm Never Coming Down)," and "Someday," written for her by White who produced her first album, Feel my Soul.
Holliday has released five solo albums and collaborated with some of the music's industry's greatest icons: Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Ashford & Simpson, Luther Vandross, Michael McDonald, Barbra Streisand, Loretta Lynn and more. She has performed numerous times at the White House and was prominently featured in "The Singer and The Song: Live From The White House," a prime-time special for PBS Television. She made her Carnegie Hall debut for PBS Television in the prime time special "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies – Live From Carnegie Hall." The list of sterling credits goes on longer than space permits. Telling tribute, however, is that Holliday's very name is synonymous with the term ‘dynamic performer’. "My deepest desire," says Holliday, "has always been to sing from my heart and to be honest with my truest heartfelt emotions. My song not only speaks from my soul, but it also speaks through me to the hearts of those who hear me sing. I am truly grateful unto God for this beautiful gift of song that He has blessed me with and for the opportunities that He has given me to share my song with the world."
Holliday will be joined on stage in Black Nativity by some of the finest performing talent the Twin Cities-area has to offer. The production will see the return of Penumbra veterans Benny S. Cannon, Aimee K. Bryant, Kathy Gagnon, Austenne Van Williams Clark and T. Mychael Rambo in the role of Herrod. Director and choreographer, Kevin Iega Jeff also brings with him a cast of such noted Chicago-based dancers as Karah Abiog, Carmel Louis, and Marion Willis who returns to perform the role of Joseph. Jeff is an accomplished choreographer, director, teacher and performer with over 20 years of artistic direction and management experience. In 1982, Iega founded the internationally acclaimed JUBILATION! Dance Company in New York. In 1994, he served as Artistic Director of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater and presently is Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Deeply Rooted Productions in Chicago, Ill.
Pantages Theater, the Historic Theater Group's new venue, will house the production. This event puts Twin Cities theatre on notice that Penumbra, an enduring artistic stronghold, now is a presence of consequence in commercial theater. There honestly is no telling what it might portend. The shock waves from Black Nativity will probably still be dying