With the holiday’s just a peek-a-boo around the corner, we’re throttled with excitement about the annual theater presentations to celebrate the occasion. We’re grateful for the perennial favorites like The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, but we’re clamoring for something a little bit new, which is where The Ensemble Theatre delivers a salve for our itch. Without skipping a beat, the company is delivering fresh and contemporary holiday blessings by the handful with Soulful Sounds of Christmas, which runs November 16 through December 30 at 3535 Main.
“This show is about unity, family and support of each other,” says Chika Kaba Ma’atunde, the production’s lyricist and librettist. “The backdrop is during Christmastime, but everyone it seems has issues, yet everyone’s able to support what each other is going through, so it’s definitely a family thing.”
A family thing, it is. Even more so, it’s a love thing just in time for the holidays.
Regina Hearne, who plays the central character Ella, tells us, “It allows you an opportunity to look at love through several ways. There’s a romantic story going on. There’s a sibling story. And there’s the Christmas story. It allows the audience to look at love through several different ways.”
To help navigate, Ma’atunde provided a preview of the plotline. Ella Washington, manager of the family owned restaurant, Ella’s Soul Food Restaurant, is accustomed to helping everyone with their problems. However, while helping her brother, Victor, with his love life; her cousins, Camilla and Mia, to relocate after Hurricane Irma; her friend, Tina, who is being evicted; and her sister, Karla, understand the beauty in giving, Ella finds herself being the one needing help. Soulful Sounds of Christmas is a heart-warming story shining light on giving, family, and love as the true meaning of Christmas.
Ma’atunde derived the concept from a Grew Williams, Jr., play, which he then turned into a musical. He took one song from the production and used it as a springboard to produce the content for Soulful Sounds of Christmas. Plus, he wanted to provide a different way to look at the holidays than the traditional fare.
“I wanted a story that would be more fulfilling in a different way,” he said. “I wanted something different where people could come and have a rewarding ending but have something different than was has been traditionally given and something that will connect with today.”
His play connects on a different level when it comes to the music too. The originally scored music reflects R&B, funk and salsa, among other styles.
“Its everything form James Brown to Earth, Wind & Fire,” Ma’atunde said.
Hearne compliments Ma’atunde’s style, saying, “Even though it is a Christmas musical, there are some nontraditional qualities, yet you still have that hint of Christmas…it has a classical quality to it, how it’s orchestrated, and it moves from something soft to something very big, and it gives you a hint of different Christmas songs.”
The show is unique in one more way. While most of us think of Christmas as snowy and cold, Soulful Sounds of Christmas is set in West Palm Beach, Florida – just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Golden Girls, Miami Vice, crystal clear beaches and non-stop mojitos.
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Hearne says, “I like the fact that it is nontraditional of what we think of as Christmas. That already takes us out of the cold of Christmas. It’s very interesting how you get to see Christmas in a warm place. It’s a hot Christmas. That’s an interesting element to pique the interest of people to come see the show.”
With a show focused on family during the holidays, expect a heap load of cast members, including members from Ensemble Theatre’s Young Performance Program. The cast includes Hearne, Troi Aryana Coleman, Andre Neal, Bridgjette Taylor-Jackson, Anthony Boggess-Glover, Jayla McDonald, Kyle Anthony Mosley, Kai Tregre, Tabitha Clay, Elijah E. Goston, An’gelle Sylvester, Daria Savannah, Brandi Milton Gilmore, Tarnisha Hartsfield, Eboni Williams, Shon Sims, Silvanus Latoison, Daniel West and Salima Muhammad.
The show is directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris.
Soulful Sounds of Christmas opens 7:30 p.m. Thursday. It continues through December 30. 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 3 p.m. Sundays. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. No shows on Nov. 23 and Dec. 5, 12, 19 and 25. 3535 Main Street. For information, call 713-520-0055 or visit ensemblehouston.com. $36 to $61.