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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 19, 2001

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Holiday Shows You Don't Want to Miss

The Holiday season is the busiest time of year.

All that shopping. All those office parties and school programs.

Sending out Christmas cards. Waiting in lines at the post office.

Trying to get through the traffic at Friendly Center. Trying to find a parking place at Four Seasons.

Trying to find out which station, if any, is going to show the old Laurel and Hardy "March of the Wooden Soldiers."

Trying to figure out how in the world "Wizard of Oz" became a Christmas movie.

Well, believe it or not, there are a few public events this holiday season that you ought to make time for. Gather up the family. Get out of the house together. Go and watch a show.

First, if you haven't gone to see "Black Nativity" at the Paul Robeson theater at A&T, don't let another year pass by. I've been three times in the past five years, and it's been marvelous every time.

The first half of the show is a retelling of the Christmas story. The second half of the show is an enactment of a traditional Christmas service at a Black church. Both parts of the show draw upon almost every musical tradition in African-American culture, and by the end of the evening you begin to realize that when you say "American music" it's hard to think of any part of it that doesn't have at least some Black roots.

Most performers are A&T students, but some longtime participants come from the community at large. They're marvelously talented, and the singing and dancing and acting -- not to mention the band that accompanies them -- are superb.

If, like me, you are of the Caucasian persuasion, you might assume that a show called "Black Nativity" is not for you. That is simply not so.

On the contrary, this is a celebration of the birth of Christ and of the Christian tradition in African-American culture. You will see no performance this holiday season that is more fervent and passionate and moving than this one. The celebration of Christ has no racial boundaries, and my experience is that when I'm part of that audience, I'm among fellow Christians.

And even if you're not Christian, you're still welcome there for one of the best performances of any kind that Greensboro has to offer.

Evening performances of "Black Nativity" are at 8 pm on 29 and 30 Nov. and 1 and 3 Dec., and matinees are at 3 pm on 1 and 2 Dec. The Paul Robeson Theater's box office number is 334-7519. Get your tickets now. This show fills the house.

The next show you shouldn't miss is the Greensboro Oratorio's performance of "The Messiah."

What, you have six different performances of Handel's masterwork on cd? So do I. (My favorite: The Robert Shaw version.)

But there's something about hearing it live. There are no stereo speakers so big and powerful that they can match the experience of being in a hall where the singers are actually producing the sound in that very moment.

I'd be singing in it myself this year, if only I hadn't caught a miserable cold that took the top five notes off my range. (I suppose I could have sung bass, but once you've sung the tenor part, there's no going back.) So maybe that's a plus -- this year you can hear it without having to hear me.

What you will hear are the voices of some of the most dedicated volunteer singers in Greensboro -- along with excellent soloists -- singing the most glorious of oratorios.

The performance is on December 2nd at three pm at War Memorial Auditorium. Admission is free, but an offering at midpoint of the program gives you a chance to help defray the rental of the hall and other costs.

The third show has nothing whatever to do with Christmas. It's a performance of the wittiest play ever written in the English language: Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." It is directed by ... er ... me.

A show in December that has nothing to do with the holidays? What can this mean?

It means the show was originally scheduled for mid-November, but one of the performers got pneumonia and we postponed it.

It also means that, without spending a single dime, you can escape completely from the madness of the holiday season and instead enjoy the madness of a hilarious British comedy that was about nothing long before "Seinfeld" ever reared its silly little head.

And it's my not-so-humble opinion that you've never seen a better company of actors doing community theater than the troupe we've developed over the past year with the Summit Players. "The Importance of Being Earnest" plays two nights, 14 and 15 Dec. at 7 pm. on the stage at the LDS meetinghouse on Pinetop Road, just off Westridge. You have to sit on folding chairs, but the hall is free and that's why there's no admission charge and no donation. (Children under ten probably won't understand any of the humor and should be left at home.)

My fourth recommendation: If you have kids, you're already planning to see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." I suggest that even if you don't have kids, it's worth seeing.

I've already heard critics carping about how it's "too faithful to the book" and it should have been changed more, the way "The Godfather" was changed to make it a great movie. (Well, actually, two great movies and one really boring one.)

Ignore those critics. They have to say bad things about Harry Potter because the movie's going to make a billion dollars and therefore in order to look smart the critics have to hate it.

The fact is, this movie is good precisely because it's faithful to the book. It's long (plan on getting out of the theater two hours and forty minutes after the scheduled starting time), but not too long. In fact, it might be too short, because the only flaw in the film is that, to get it as brief as it is, they cut some transitional bits that would have made it flow more smoothly.

Still, the story is clear, the acting is good, the special effects work, and anyone who wishes to watch all of the quidditch matches instead of just one, or to see the entire adventure with the dragon Norbert, can simply go home and reread the book.

I laughed. I cried. My seven-year-old daughter and I were both on the edge of our seats through the whole thing. So were people who had not read the books.

(And remember to see "Monsters, Inc.," another kids' show that's better than most "grownup" films this year.)

Do I have any room left? Then let me tell you that one of my favorite Christmas cds is the one produced a few years ago by Greensboro's own Bel Canto singers. I have no idea where you can buy it. I just know I'm not lending you mine.

Now have a marvelous Thanksgiving and then go shop your brains out. It's your patriotic duty.

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