Black ‘Box’ Is Best

First came Jesus Christ Superstar, then Godspell, and now the best modern musical to date about the life of Jesus, the all-black Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. Conceived and directed by award-winning Vinnette Carroll (Dont Bother Me I Can’t Cope) and composed by Alex Bradford (also from Dont Bother Me), the musical had an extended run at Washington, D. C.’s historic Ford’s Theatre before going to New York. Bradford, who is director of music of the Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark, also sang and performed in the show. His wife Alberta plays the piano.

Part one in song, modern dance, and narration tells the passion of Christ. Wearing costumes muted in color with geometric designs, the performers enter one at a time to begin the breathlessly energetic gospel show. The audience is immediately introduced to Jesus. A soloist, designated as the preacher, asks the audience, “Do you know Jesus?” Throughout the production, which, like Godspell, is not confined to the stage, the audience is questioned and cajoled about Jesus. There is no waffling here about who Jesus is or about why he died and rose from the grave.

The combo and singers blend well and keep the audience clapping and shouting. But the dancers provide much of the visual enjoyment. During the death and crucifixion of Jesus, drums and dancers achieve a rare perfection. As the singers intone “kill him kill him,” Jesus’ body jerks and moves painfully with each drum beat, the two beautifully synchronized. Jesus hangs motionless with a staff under his arms between two other cast members for the Good Friday crucifixion scene.

The title of the show comes from the warning Pilate’s ...

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