Friday, May 24, 2024

Inside Broadway/Theater Review: The Classical Theatre of Harlem Presents ‘The First Noel’ at The Apollo Theater for a Limited Engagement

*A new holiday classic arrives uptown at the legendary Apollo Theater this season with the premiere of The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of The First Noel.

This family-friendly evening of musical theater features original music and inventively arranged, re-imagined classic holiday carols that span the genres of pop, jazz, and gospel.

The First Noel makes its unprecedented move to the Apollo’s mainstage as a part of the institution’s “Holidays at the Apollo.” This production has been in development for three years and is produced in association with the Penn State School of Theatre. The First Noel opens for a limited run through Sunday, December 18th.

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Tina Fabrique (Courtesy of The Classical Theatre of Harlem)

Directed by Steven H. Broadnax III with book, music, and lyrics by Lelund Durond Thompson (YellaFella Entertainment) and Jason Michael Webb (Motown: The Musical, Violet, and The Color Purple) and choreography by Brian Harlan Brooks (Motown: The Musical), this production pulls heartstrings and all the right notes. This show is destined to become Harlem’s perennial holiday classic.

Opening with the heavenly acapella harmonies of the ensemble in choir mode, the production tells the story of adult Noel, who returns to a gentrified Harlem to sell her family’s brownstone after the death of her mother. The First Noel is a musical memory that reflects loss, memory, forgiveness, and healing across three generations of a family. Simultaneously nostalgic and yet contemporary, the spirits of the former inhabitants of the brownstone come to life bringing with them memories of Christmas past.

We are transported to Harlem circa 1985 where Noel, a nine-year-old who longs to celebrate Christmas in a home where holiday joy has been replaced with grief for her entire lifetime. Her parents struggle to over come the loss of their first child until an unexpected, unwelcomed guest’s arrival refreshes the pain of the loss of a child, abandonment, and estrangement, bringing all of it into stark relief.

No family is truly a family without its village and extended family members; Skeeter played by Brian D. Coats (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) running refrain about a positive attitude and Lou played by Lizan Mitchell (So Long on Lonely Street) are both deep in the beating heart of this family. Their love and devotion to this nuclear family not only moves the drama forward but also provides comic relief and a candid honesty that all families will recognize in their lifelong friends and loved ones. These characters resonate as husband Henry, played by Ken Robinson (2015 revival of The Color Purple) and wife Deloris played by Soara-Joyce Ross (Les Misérables) lean heavily on them while in the midst of a domestic conflict infused by deep mourning as a long simmering parental conflict comes to a head during the holidays. Tina Fabrique (Ragtime; Bring Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk) takes a star turn as Grandmother Ethel; her character is a world-renowned performer in her own right. Ashley Ware Jenkins (The Color Purple national tour) as adult Noel, with Nia Caesar and Zariah Singletary as Young Noel.

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Zariah Singletary (Courtesy of The Classical Theatre of Harlem)

The ensemble features James Alexander, Angela Birchett, Jesse Corbin, Darius Crenshaw, Tamara Jade Fingal, Ayana George, LaTrisa A. Harper, Adam Hyndman, Sarita Amani Nash, Drew Shade, Chawntá Marie Van, Tiffany Webb, and Helen White.

The design team for The First Noel is Dan Robinson (scenic design), Rachel Dozier-Ezell (costume design), Alan C. Edwards, (lighting design), and Curtis Craig (sound and projection design). Andrew Lederman returns as musical director.

Tickets are available at The Apollo Theater Box Office: 253 West 125th Street and via 1-800-745-3000. Group Sales: 212-531-5355. Ticket prices range from $30-$65. Apollo Advantage member pricing: $30-$40. To learn more, visit:

Renee Foster
Renee Foster

Inside Broadway Guest Contributor Renee Foster, a former lifestyle magazine writer and editor, is adept at using her passion for community and culture to shape conversations. Her personal mission statement is winning hearts and minds, one at a time.


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