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Cleveland Play House partners with Karamu House, Apollo's Fire on new holiday programs

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Cleveland Play House, Karamu House, Apollo’s Fire
The three arts organizations will present "Black Nativity," the Festival of Trees and "WASSAIL!" throughout December at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square

Cleveland Play House is partnering with Karamu House and Apollo’s Fire to present a range of holiday performances at the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square starting next week. The collaboration ensures programming in December after CPH had to cancel its holiday show this year.

CPH’s free, annual Festival of Trees returns December 3 in the Allen lobby, with dozens of Christmas trees designed by Northeast Ohio creatives. Later in the month, Karamu House presents “Black Nativity,” followed by Apollo’s Fire’s “WASSAIL! - An Irish-Appalachian Christmas.”

These programs take the place of the musical “Light It Up!,” which was originally slated for the holiday season. It was commissioned last year and created by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Michael Webb (“Choir Boy”) and CWRU/CPH Alum Lelund Durond Thompson. In a release CPH said, “The decision to halt the anticipated revival comes at the request of the creators due to their own schedule and creative conflicts."

CPH spokeswoman Karen Hernandez said the show received a great response last year, although several performances were canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. Whether it returns next year is up to CPH's new creative director, who is slated to be announced in early 2023 amid an ongoing search.

Crossing over
The partnership with Karamu House and Apollo’s Fire came about through the work of CPH Interim Artistic & Managing Director Mark Cuddy.

“When an unfortunate situation necessitated a change in our December artistic programming at CPH, we immediately decided to look for local partners to perform in the Allen Theatre,” he said. “The first people I thought of were Tony Sias and Jeannette Sorrell.”

With the two theater organizations, Hernandez said, "there are audiences that crossover for sure. But I think to be exposed to Karamu House- being the oldest African-American theater in the country - a lot of our guests have not been exposed to their phenomenal artistic shows... and I think it's the same the other way around."

“Black Nativity” is a gospel-and-dance-infused retelling of the Christmas story written and conceived by Langston Hughes. Apollo’s Fire’s “WASSAIL!” takes place on Christmas night in Old Ireland.

The Festival of Trees started about 25 years ago at CPH's former location before the move to the Allen's lobby, rotunda and Hall of Mirrors. Among the 30 trees are a memorial tree for people who have lost loved ones.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.