'Black Nativity' performer shines a light
Evelina King, one of the elders in the cast of the long-running "Black Nativity," is one of the joyful show's delights. The production of the Langston Hughes gospel-song play runs through Dec. 24 at the Moore Theatre.
Seattle Times theater critic
'Black Nativity'Through Dec. 24, Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $36-$55 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
The rousing holiday production of "Black Nativity" at the Moore Theatre showcases some of the best gospel-fired singers in the region.
But there is one special member of the "Black Nativity" choir who has never missed an appearance in the show, who never fails to raise the roof with her big solo and who always radiates the joyous sense of openhearted community that this 50-year-old choreo-poem by the late Langston Hughes can stir up.
She is 75-year-old Mount Baker matriarch Evelina King, one of the elders in the cast. Credit to it her age, religious fervor, theatrical flair or a combination of all three, but especially when King belts out the old spiritual "This Little Light of Mine," she's got the whole crowd in her hands.
King's shyness during a backstage interview is quickly eclipsed by her warmth and good humor.
"I've been a singer all my life," declares this soft-voiced, slender woman, who wears her hair atop her head in a braided bun.
"I love Evelina's stability, and her spirituality. She's just so grounded, " says director Jacqueline Moscou, who has staged the Seattle version of "Black Nativity" since its debut at Intiman Theatre in 1997.
Like Moscou and the show's musical director-performer Patrinell Wright, the doyenne of Seattle's gospel music scene, King has maintained a commitment to "Black Nativity" through its years at the Intiman, and now into a residency at the Moore Theatre that began in 2010 under the aegis of STG Presents.
Bursting with soul-soaring gospel tunes, heartfelt Christmas carols, and vital new dance sequences choreographed by Donald Byrd, "Black Nativity" is a celebratory, participatory affair that embraces a Northwest audience of all races and many faiths — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics.
It is also the most prominent, recurring theatrical expression of the local African-American community.
King has been an active member of that community since moving from Maine to Seattle with her former husband some 40 years ago. She raised seven children here, and has nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
What has always sustained her, she confides with a sunbeam smile, are her Christian faith ("We're all God's children") and her music.
"I was born in New Orleans, and was singing since I was a little girl," King recalls. "I always sang in church choir, and I'd bring all my children along to encourage them to sing too."
When her friend Patrinell Wright urged her to audition for "Black Nativity" in 1999, King went for it and won a spot.
"I've known Evelina for 30 years," says Wright. "I liked her voice, smile, graciousness, spirituality. I was also looking for someone who could sing old-school gospel."
Called "Mama King" by some younger castmates, she has what Moscou terms "a calming influence on the kids who get a little rowdy during rehearsals."
"I enjoy them all," King says. "I like to see how we all explore the talents God gave us. I'm able to relate to them — not in a bossy way, though."
During the current run at "Black Nativity" at the Moore (it runs through Christmas Eve), King settles into a routine. She performs on the weekends, but sings every day. She takes cat naps backstage, and swims whenever possible for exercise. And whether she's tearing it up on "This Little Light of Mine" or lifting her voice with others on "The First Noel," she has a blast.
"I don't plan to stop this now," King tells you. "I enjoy it, I love it, it gives me something to hold on to."
That's music to Wright's ears. "Evelina," she states flatly, "is irreplaceable."
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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