The Apollo Theatre presented “Ellington Christmas: Nutcracker Suite” as its first holiday program on Saturday, Dec. 7. An air of excitement and expectation permeated the atmosphere as you entered the Apollo lobby. There was a line outside and the box office and will call windows were busy. People crowded into the lobby conversing with one another and comparing seating locations. There was a steady stream of people entering the theatre and taking their seats, as well as a line on both sides of the bar. The feeling was up and chatter was upbeat. The crowd was anxiously awaiting show time and their favorite performers appearance on stage.
Mikki Shepard, executive producer opened the program by dedicating the evening’s program to the memory of the courageous South African leader and ex-president, Nelson Mandela, who had joined the ancestors just days before. The bill for the evening was: Keith David, Savion Glover, Lizz Wright, Priscilla Baskerville, The Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir, students from the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. The program was excellent! The audience’s anticipation was well rewarded.
Part one of the program was Duke Ellington’s jazz interpretation with the assistance of his long time collaborator and arranger, Billy Strayhorn of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite played by the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. Enhancing the music was performance by the Students of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the inspiring tap performance of Savion Glover and The Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir.
Part two of the program was Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Music” played by the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. Keith David joined them on stage singing “In the Beginning God (Part I).” The Abyssinia Baptist Church Choir joined singing “Will You Be There?” and “Ninety Nine Percent.” Later in the program, Mr. David sang, “Come Sunday.” Lizz Wright strode out on the stage wearing a curve hugging white gown and sporting a short bobbed haircut. She looked as if she came out of a dream. Ms Wright reached back to her gospel roots and lent her golden voice to “Tell Me It’s the Truth” and “Twenty-Third Psalm.” My only complaint is that she didn’t stay longer on stage and sing more songs. Do you detect some bias? You’re probably right. Lizz Wright is on my short list of living jazz vocalist. Opera singer, Pricilla Baskerville gave voice to “Heaven” and “Almighty God,” which she sang with the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir. Savion Glover dazzled the audience with his tap choreography and execution of “David Danced Before the Lord with all His Might” with the Abyssinia Baptist Church Choir. It was a beautiful program and the audience showed their appreciation through out the performances and definitely at the program end by their tremendous applause.
On Sunday, Dec. 8, the program moved to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to delight a Jersey audience. Hopefully, such programs of this caliber will have a longer life in future and move on to several venues after playing the Apollo for at least a three-day or weekend run.
The next Apollo holiday program will be the annual Kwanzaa Celebration featuring Abdel R. Salaam’s ADELCO Award winning Forces of Nature of Nature Dance Theatre on Friday, Dec. 27, the second day of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia (self determination) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at the Apollo Theater Box Office: (212) 531-5305, 253 West 125th Street, and Ticketmaster at 1- 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
© Amun/Ankhra House, Ltd.