If you've ever heard it before, you know: When the Total Experience Gospel Choir opens up the tap, you'd better be sitting back in your seat. Some three-dozen colorfully clad, hugely grinning singers - each with a serious set of pipes -- deliver the gospel with such power, such conviction that if you don't feel it in your bones, you'd better check your pulse.
Said tap was opened wide last night at Intiman's Black Nativity, a 13-year Seattle tradition that infuses the traditional baby/manger story with the big crazy passion of a big gospel choir, and the words of legendary jazz-poet Langston Hughes. The choir's opening number, 'Joy to the World,' is downright irresistable; I caught myself grinning stupidly from ear to ear. Yep, that joy is infectious!
For the first half of the show, the story of the Nativity is narrated and interpreted by dancers, including the magnetic Amber Nicole Mayberry of Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theater, whose Mary manages to be at one time pregnant and lithe. The story progresses, punctuated by powerhouse gospel solos, praise dancing and plenty of "amens" from both the choir and the audience.
During the second half of the show, the Moore is transformed into a "non-denominational mega-church" by TEGC's founder and leader, Pastor Patrinell Wright. For this half, Wright and guest narrator Pastor Alphonso H. Meadows, Jr. attempt to (and largely succeed in) roping in the audience, urging them to greet each other, call out their religious affiliations ("Are there any Catholics in the house? Moslems? Mormans? Jews?"), with choir members dancing in the aisles, greeting audience members. Here's another dozen chill-rendering musical numbers, including the stirring Ave Maria and a soaring solo by choir member Gena Brooks.
The only mark against this potent, polished and -- why fight it? -- uplifiting production goes to the dreadful acoustics of the aging Moore Theatre. My friend and I were seated about halfway back on the main floor, underneath the balcony, and let's just say that the sound quality rivaled that of many a Pioneer Square bar: muddy and muffled, which is a shame, since the band is sharp and strong. If you go, make sure you sit in the balcony, or - better yet - get near the front, where the infectious happiness can slop all over you. And slop, it will, and after a while, you will forget all about the sound problems and relax into the fun.
Take kids? Yes, if they're comfy with religion, or if you're up for a discussion about religion, 'cause besides being an evening of fabulous entertainment, this here show is very religious (all religions welcome). The show is colorful and interesting; from a kid's-eye-view, it never lags. Certainly, by the time a shirtless Bojohn Diciple is doing acrobatics on stage while Josephine Howell belts it out, your child will be very clear on one thing: This form of worship is very, very fun.
Black Nativity runs through December 26 at Seattle's Moore Theatre.