Theatre: The Classical Theater of Harlem: The First Noel

by Lisa Nicole Wilkerson

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Written by Lisa Nicole Wilkerson for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
The Apollo Theater

4 out of 5 stars


NEW YORK, NY (December 19, 2016) During this holiday season, when people are hoping to receive and experience things that make them jump for joy, The Classical Theater of Harlem’s closing night production of The First Noel musical (Dec 10 – 18, 2016) delivered just that, and then some. Having just enjoyed a second successful run at the historic Apollo Theater, this Harlem-based story about love, loss and redemption, was full of solid acting performances, appealing visuals and a variety of music genres, including pop, jazz and gospel.

Aside from its title, this show boasts of multiple firsts. The First Noel is the first musical that has transferred to the Apollo’s main stage from its Soundstage. Co-creators Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Michael Webb (writers of the book, music and lyrics), and Director Steve H. Broadnax III, expertly headed the creative team that expanded the production.

Nia Bonita Caesar as Young Noel in "The First Noel"
Nia Bonita Caesar as Young Noel in “The First Noel”

Additionally, it is the Apollo’s first limited-run, holiday production, which is a win-win for the elevation and growth of both the show and the theater. Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes said, “We are really thrilled about The First Noel. This is the kind of work that we see ourselves growing into as a part of the future of the Apollo programming.”

Soara-Joye Ross (Deloris) and Ken Robinson (Henry) in CTH's "The First Noel" at The Apollo Theater
Soara-Joye Ross (Deloris) and Ken Robinson (Henry) in CTH’s “The First Noel” at The Apollo Theater

Set in modern-day Harlem with memory scenes dating back to 1985, The First Noel is centered around an eight-year-old only-child, who desperately wants to celebrate and be happy at Christmas. She can’t openly express her true feelings, as her parents grapple with how to honor their first child, who died during the holiday nine years before. Both children, they named Noel. Three generations of this family, along with the help of close friends, struggle and succeed at finding healing from the past, in order to see and enjoy the present.

Nia Bonita Caesar (Young Noel) was charming and delivered a beautifully grounded performance. Soara-Joye Ross (Deloris) deftly portrayed the haunting, visceral aching caused by the child loss. Ken Robinson (Henry) was organic and captivating. He delightfully depicted the loving dad who keeps the family in tact, but, when at a breaking point he emphatically — perhaps rhetorically — demanded, “Who’s holding me up?,” the audience collectively held its breath. Tina Fabrique (Ethel) was fun and heart-warming as the grandmother.

The cast of  "The First Noel" perform on stage at The Apollo Theater
The cast of “The First Noel” perform on stage at The Apollo Theater

Lizan Mitchell (Lou) masterfully provided comic relief, along with Mykal Kilgore (Benny Raindrop) and Brian D. Coats (Skeeter), who reminded us all what a positive attitude can do. The cast was rounded out by an ensemble filled with bold and textured voices.

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