Currently playing a limited engagement at The Apollo Theater’s famous mainstage, The First Noel is not just an antidote to the hustle of the holidays, but also a salve for those floundering to overcome obstacles and heal. In its second year, the musical is an entertaining holiday show about family and community. The First Noel, presented by the Classic Theater of Harlem, runs through December 18.
For music lovers, The First Noel is a treat featuring original songs as well as old favorites reinvigorated with jazz, gospel, and pop music influences. The performances are passionate and powerful. Highlights include “Life Happens,” different versions of which are sung by Ken Robinson (Henry) and Ashley Ware Jenkins (Adult Noel) at different points in the show, and “Noel’s Wish,” sung by Nia Bonita Caesar as Young Noel. The exuberant and creative staging makes it easy to fully enjoy the show from any vantage point.
While the story develops from family tragedy, the focus is love, forgiveness, belonging, and the importance of celebrations. The many instances of humor (Skeeter, played by the wonderful Brian D. Coats, is fantastic) balanced by equally as many tear-jerking moments. The subject matter involves loss on several levels, and several characters show various coping methods. The First Noel is truly cathartic. Despite the emotional backstory, the performance is suitable for families, although best for children 8 and up.
The large ensemble plays various parts throughout the production, but the opening number is a standout gospel performance of “The First Noel.” The ensemble songs and dancing throughout had the audience clapping and singing and occasionally shouting out encouragement, and the Benny Raindrop scenes are particularly fun.
For those who haven’t been to the The Apollo, seeing the show will be doubly exciting. The iconic neon sign and the collages of past performers in the lobby welcome visitors year-round. The Apollo is currently decked out for #HolidaysAtApollo, so arrive a little early to experience the Apollo Theater Santa Village with three holiday-themed selfie-stations including Rudolph noses for kids, fun props for adults, and photos with Santa Claus.
The Apollo Theater is an easy one block walk from the A train’s 125th Street stop, which connects to both Penn Station and Port Authority. If you’d rather drive, there are several parking garages within easy walking distance. Full directions are here.
The First Noel, The Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street, NYC, NY. Performances through Sunday, December 18, 2016.