Nativity The Pop Opera spreads a message of hope for a good cause
Throughout the years, the tale of Mary’s precious baby has become a worldwide art form that eloquently reminds audiences about the real meaning of Christmas, which is everlasting love, hope and family. Starting Thursday, Dec. 12 at The Beavercreek Church of Nazarene, the production of Nativity The Pop Opera (NTPO) will recreate the original narrative of Christ’s birth, as told by the angels on high who were there. This dynamic stage production is directed and written by movie industry veteran, storyboard artist and Dayton native J Todd Anderson, with music arranged by Mark Cohea.
If you have seen movies like “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “Fargo,” “The Addams Family” or “The Stepford Wives,” then you are familiar with Anderson’s work. He has also worked with Hollywood heavyweights like Drew Barrymore, George Clooney and the Coen brothers, just to name a few. NTPO came about when a local church asked Anderson to put on a Christmas show, mainly because they heard he had written some original Christmas material. The inaugural performance debuted in 1995. Unfortunately, the show went on hiatus and did not see the light of day again until 2008.
“People kept asking us, ‘Were we ever going to do that Christmas play again?’” said Anderson. “When we brought it back, we went after our original intentions, which is doing something at Christmastime for kids. We wanted all of the proceeds to go to an organization that honored sick children, so for the past two years we have been giving all of the proceeds from the show to A Kid Again.”
A Kid Again is a locally based organization that strives to enrich the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families by providing fun-filled group activities and destination events.
The original music for NTPO was heavily influenced by rock operas like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. You can expect to hear a variety of different musical styles, ranging from The Beatles, country and western, Motown, and gospel music. However, to achieve the raw emotional flavor of gospel music, NTPO will star multiple Grammy Award winner and world-renowned gospel music icon, Sherman Andrus, as Gabriel the Archangel.
“Sherman is an incredible singer,” explained Anderson. “We are so privileged to have him as Gabriel the Angel of the Lord. The word ‘gospel’ is exactly what Sherman is all about – he lives it, he walks it and he breathes it.”
Throughout his more than 40-year career, Andrus sang on more than 30 albums, along with ministering to millions of people around the world. He is credited as the man who broke the color barrier in gospel music by becoming the first African American lead singer of the popular mainstream singing group The Imperials. Andrus helped revolutionize The Imperials from a traditional southern gospel group to a pioneering contemporary music phenomenon. In honor of his many achievements, Andrus was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1998.
“I’m excited about the play,” Andrus said. “The music is great and the story is so fresh the way it’s seen through the eyes of Gabriel. I think everyone will enjoy it, especially the music. They have some amazing singers in the play.”
Sherman Andrus is supported by a cast of brilliant actors and multi-talented singers. All of the classic biblical characters – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Zechariah and the wise men – will be hitting the stage for your enjoyment pleasure. John the Baptist and Herod make appearances as well. The stars of the show, however, are the angels – Lauren Perish, Renecia Joseph, Elizabeth Gentner and Amy Nicholls – who steal the show with their impressive powerhouse vocals and trademark wings. The production crew is extremely talented, as well, and includes Mischelle McIntosh as the stage manager and Bronwen Owsley as choreographer. Eileen Sullivan and Steve Sullivan provide the lighting and the technical direction, Phil Stock supplies the set design, Olivia Hildenbrandt is the costume supervisor and Marion Schniegenberg produces.
This is the sixth year that Nativity the Pop Opera has been in production. If things go well for the play this year, they are looking to tackle even bigger territory by showcasing their talents on the Broadway stage.
“Christmas has always been a special time for me and my family,” explained Andrus. “It’s going to be a little different for us because we lost our only son to cancer two months ago. I was actually looking for a project or something to honor my son because he was into giving as well. We are all going to experience loss in our lives, but it does not have to be a sad time – it can be a glorious time when we think about how Christ came to Earth. All of this will be wrapped in the play, it’s the passion of what I feel right now.”
Nativity The Pop Opera will run Thursday, Dec. 12 through Saturday, Dec. 14 at The Beavercreek Church of Nazarene, 1850 N. Fairfield Road, and on Sunday, Dec. 15 at The Gathering, 8911 Yankee St. in Centerville. Admission is free, donations are accepted after each performance and proceeds go to A Kid Again. For more information, please visit nativitypopoera.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Deon Jefferson at DeonJefferson@DaytonCityPaper.com.