Director Greg Williams is keeping Langston Hughes' story intact when New Venture Theatre stages the author-poet's "Black Nativity."

But that's not saying there won't be any changes when the curtain opens at LSU's Claude L. Shaver Theatre on Friday.

"It's supposed to be a play within a play," Williams says. "But we're taking the play out of it and making it a story that happens in Africa."

Gospel music will back this version of Jesus' birth, which, Williams says, is "compelling in any setting."

"It is the greatest story ever told," he says. "It's the story people keep coming back to."

New Venture first performed the story two Christmases ago.

"We decided last year to start performing 'Black Nativity' only every other year," Williams says. "It gives us a break during the Christmas season, and it allows our actors a chance to be a part of other productions around in the area."

Hughes wrote "Black Nativity" in 1961 and the story usually takes the audience from a traditional black church to an Africanized Jerusalem through dance, spirituals, anthems and gospel music.

New Venture will go straight into Africa as it follows Mary and Joseph on a journey that culminates in the rousing finale of Jesus' birth.

The play calls for 20 cast members, but Williams has expanded it to 40.

"I wanted to do it small like we did the last time, but we had so many talented singers and dancers at the audition, and their energy was exciting," he says. "And we wouldn't be true to our mission if we didn't expand this show by giving as many performers as possible a chance to be on stage."

Williams also promises more elaborate costumes and choreography in this year's show.

"We'll also be accompanied by a live band," he says. "The music is so energizing, and all of this comes together to tell this beautiful story. The importance of the play is that, though an expression of Christian belief via the African-American perspective, it appeals to all walks of life."


'Black Nativity'

New Venture Theatre's Christmas production

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre, LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive.

ADMISSION: $25, adults; and $20, students with valid ID and groups of 10 or more with pre-purchase before the show date.

TICKETS/INFORMATION: Call (225) 588-7576 or visit nvtarts.org.

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.