New Venture adds story to Soulful Sounds

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Heather McClelland /
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND

Brian Jordan, front right, choreographer for New Venture Theatre's Soulful Sounds of Christmas, runs through 'Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town' with Henry Harris,from left, Kristi Ambrose and Tyshawn Clark at Independence Park Theatre.

Last year, New Venture Theatre added a little Motown to the mix.

That strategy resulted in making Christmas even more cheery.

So, this year, the theater company is adding a story to the Motown sounds of its holiday production, Soulful Sounds of Christmas.

There will be two performances at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, in Independence Theatre.

“And I think people will walk out feeling the spirit of Christmas,” Greg Williams Jr. said. “This is coming from a Christmas addict, and I believe our story captures the spirit of the season.”

Notice how Williams uses “our” in reference to the story. It’s true that New Venture is telling this new story to the world. But Williams is its author.

He created the characters of two sisters who come together to help a mother and daughter who are kicked out of their apartment on Christmas Eve. He also plugged in the appropriate songs to be performed along the way.

“Last year, it was a jukebox show, where the music was at the center of the show,” Williams said. “This year, we have this feel-good, high energy story.”

Well, last year’s production wasn’t totally a jukebox-style show. There was a premise. Williams produced the show, but he turned over the content to his performers. The story presented on stage was that the performers hijacked the show from its director and came up with Soulful Sounds of Christmas.

The production was fun and generated a big audience. But doing the same thing year after year can be redundant for both performer and audiences.

Building on the show, however, offers the same mix of Motown with the added cheer of Williams’ story.

And this year, these things will come together to benefit the community through the Gamma Eta Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

“We are partnering with New Venture for the first time in what we hope will be a long partnership in years to come,” Katina Semien said.

She’s president of the local chapter, which funds some $16,000 in scholarship for local college-bound seniors, as well as educational, community and charitable programs.

All of the tickets sales for Soulful Sounds of Christmas will benefit the sorority’s programs.

“We’ll raise enough money from this one show to fund our projects for the year,” Semien said.

Semien’s introduction to New Venture Theatre was in 2009, with the company’s production of the Broadway hit musical, The Wiz. She was instantly hooked and has since been a fan.

“I’ve loved watching this theater grow,” she said. “It offers the community productions that aren’t offered anywhere near, and all of them are high quality shows. I am always amazed by the quality of everything New Venture does.”

“And working with the sorority helps us accomplish part of our mission,” Williams said. “We started out in the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center working with the underserved. We’ve grown, but our mission is still to give back to the community. And working with the sorority allows us to do this, and it allows us to do it in an artistic way.”

Williams discussed the partnership with Semien in his office at Independence Park Theatre while his cast warmed up in the auditorium on the other side of the lobby. Some practiced dance moves, while others thought about the lines they would say.

Lines that would tell the story of the two sisters, one cheerful and the other who maintains a constant bad disposition. They discover the mom and young daughter who have been evicted on Christmas Eve, and the foursome spend the night seeking help.

“During the course of the night, they meet every eccentric character in the neighborhood,” Williams said.

And in the end?

“You get the same sort of flavor as you would from A Christmas Carol, where everything happens in one night to come to a realization and understanding in the end,” Williams said.

Now, all you have to do is add a little Motown to the mix. Maybe even some Stax. And the Christmas cheer is complete.

  • CAST: Ahmad Harris, DJ Rudolph; Amari Booker, Joy; Brionia Gougis, featured dancer; Chanerya Valentine, featured dance/ensemble; David Sylvester, Gilbert; Gerald Garth, Paxon/ensemble; Henry Harris, featured dance/ensemble/man; Hope Landor, Tina; Infiniti Eaglin, featured dance/ensemble; Kristi Ambrose, woman on the streets/Trudy Tone/ensemble; LaNea Wilkinson, Fannie; LaNetha Jefferson, Alberta; Mercades Harrison, featured dance/ensemble; Rosalind Reynard, Holly, Seanre Harding, Erma; Tanesha Craig, Holly; Tara Windor, Holly; Tyquincia Johnson, Ella Mae; Tyshawn Clark, ensemble/Elmer.
  • DIRECTOR: Greg Williams Jr.