Dec. 9, 2002 – It's an "ensemble cast" of 50 Virgin Islanders appearing in this year's production of "Folk Nativity" at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on Saturday and Sunday on St. Thomas, but some in the ensemble are more celebrated than others.
There is, for one, St. Clair DeSilva, better known as "Whadablee," who's been wearing the V.I. calypso monarch for four years running. He will play several roles in the Caribbean Christmas musical, including that of a reggae-singing shepherd.
"I decided to do the show to broaden my horizon," DeSilva said. "I've never done a performance with this level of acting, and I'm enjoying the challenge. This is very different from a calypso show."
And then there's Lee Hodge, a former member of the R&B group G-Storm, which has performed at many regional talent shows and benefit concerts, as well as at the Apollo Theater in New York. He's playing King Herod.
Cast in the role of the play's narrator, named Emanuel David, is Jerome Kendall, a veteran member of the Reichhold Center's Caribbean Repertory Theater Company.
Mary and Joseph are played, respectively, by Kamisha Counts, a 10th grade student at Charlotte Amalie High School, and Earl Smmonds, a singer/songwriter who graduated from CAHS in 1988.
"Folk Nativity" is a musical by Alwin Bully and Einstar LeBlanc of Dominica. Written in 1976, it is a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story set in a rural village on a Caribbean island. The play centers on an eccentric recluse who is on trial for stealing a stem of bananas. The man, who is innocent, recounts the story of Jesus' birth and its lessons of peace, love and brotherhood as his defense, with the biblical characters appearing in indigenous guises.
The Reichhold's first mounting of the play, two years ago, had a cast of 32, so this year's production has increased that by half. Bully said in an interview at that time that it could be staged with as few as 15, with actors playing multiple roles, and that one of the attractionss of the work is that "you can make it as elaborate as you want," or as simple. However, he noted, "Pageantry and procession to me are integral parts of Caribbean culture."
"This year's production is something we are very proud of," director David Edgecombe says. "Our talented cast has been working very hard on making 'Folk Nativity' a success."
Edgecombe, who also is the director of the Reichhold Center, directed the theater's first mounting of the play two years ago, too. Other key behind-the-scenes players are back as well: Josephine Thomas-Lewis as musical director and Malayisha Rabsatt and Princess Penn in charge of choreography.
Bully and Edgecombe, who grew up on Montserrat, have been friends since they were teen-agers. They met in the 1960s at a University of the West Indies theater workshop and have collaborated on numerous theatrical projects over the years.
The music that Bully and LeBlanc created for "Folk Nativity" encompasses various contemporary Caribbean genres — including calypso/kaiso, reggae, the French West Indian cadance/zouk, Haiti's compas, the Hispanic merengue and a popular rhythm in Barbados in the 1970s, spouge..
The Reichhold presented "Folk Nativity" in 2000 after doing "Christmas Caribbean Style" for the two years before that (also with Thomas-Lewis as musical director). One reason for bringing it back now, Edgecombe says, is that "ever since, we've been inundated with requests for an encore performance."
Curtain time both nights is 8 p.m.
For background on the play and an interview with Bully two years ago, see "Reichhold keeping a Caribbean Christmas".
Tickets to "Folk Nativity" are now on sale at Krystal and Gifts Galore, both Modern Music shops, Parrot Fish Music and the Reichhold box office on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John. To purchase tickets online, go to the Reichhold Center Web site. To do so by telephone using a charge card, call the box office at 693-1559.
This year's performances were initially scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Season subscribers and others holding tickets for those dates who have not already done so should call the box office at 693-1559 to reserve seating for Saturday or Sunday.
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