On a frigid Saturday in early March as the midnight hour draws nigh, Mary J. Blige materializes on an outdoor basketball court sporting a blond mushroom-cloud of an Afro wig, a white leather maxi-coat and matching stiletto-heeled boots — along with a pair of giant wings perched on her back.
Among her audience: three goats hanging out by the bleachers.
This angelic queen of hip-hop soul is busy proclaiming the arrival of baby Jesus in song, exhorting a chorus of inner-city shepherds to rise and follow the star to the manger. It is all part of a dream sequence in the film Black Nativity, due Nov. 27, a visual mash-up of a preacher’s Christmas Eve sermon and his napping grandson’s dream of a Times Square Bethlehem.
Filmmaker Kasi Lemmons sports her own mountain of blond curls as she puts the Grammy winner through her heavenly paces here in the thematically appropriate St. Nicholas Park.
How did she convince the music superstar to participate in bringing this holiday-themed musical — which aims to join the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life as a yuletide perennial — to the big screen?
“Mary is a wonderful talent and an incredible sport,” Lemmons says. “You know, it’s an angel. You don’t get to do that every day.”
Lemmons, an actress (The Silence of the Lambs, the recent Disconnect) who added the title of director to her résumé with 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, says doing a musical has always been on her wish list. “I was a huge fan of musicals as a kid,” she says. “The Fantastickswas one of my favorites. And Black Nativity spoke to my childhood, withJesus Christ Superstarand Godspell. This is my Godspell.”
The main challenge was adding a plot to Black Nativity, conceived by Langston Hughes in 1961 as a kind of large-scale church pageant that continues to be performed regularly. Lemmons chose to build a story around a young single mom (Jennifer Hudson) in Baltimore who struggles to make ends meet and is forced to send her child to live with her estranged parents (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett) in New York City.
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article courtesy of usatoday.com
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