‘Family Blessing’: A jubilant celebration of dance and theater
BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — “Family Blessing,” the musical extravaganza, will take center stage at the Mahaffey Theater during this holiday season. This is the second year of the production and producer and creator Jai Hinson is predicting that it will be a tour-de-force to be enjoyed by the entire community.
“Family Blessing” is the story of the journey of a young boy named Michael who witnesses homelessness first hand and then through a dream sequence travels throughout the world to find ways to bring people together to combat this dire condition.
“It’s promoting love of community and family,” explained Hinson. “Treat people the way you want people to treat you. It’s not seasonal. Look as others as being part of the [world] family.”
Sponsored by Bay News 9, ARTZ 4 Life Academy and the producers of “The Chocolate Nutcracker” and “Nutcracker Twist,” “Family Blessings” continues the theatrical legacy that has been a Bay area family tradition every December for the past 17 seasons.
The producers have retained many of the dance elements that made previous productions so spectacular while weaving ballet, hip hop, jazz, tap, African, Salsa, Mexican Folklorico, Brazilian and Bollywood dance into an exotic tapestry of light, color, music and movement as the audience follows Michael’s journey from the streets of Harlem to the island of Cuba, the mountains of Mexico, South American rainforests, Brazilian Carnival, West African villages and India’s Bollywood.
There are approximately 150 dancers of all ages who bring these magical worlds to life.
The production collaborates with Blake High School of the Arts, and also performing will be the Lakewood High School jazz band, Mexico Folklorico, Blue Jay and The Troupe Tappers and solo performances by the phenomenal Belinda Womack as she portrays Grandma Zola.
Some of the choreographers who lent their expertise to the production are former students of Hinson who have gone on to become professional dancers including Vincent Bingham, Sir Brock Warren and Wayne Bascomb. But it is the main character, Michael, portrayed by eight-year-old sensation Jeloni Parks, who captures the audience’s attention and hearts immediately.
Jeloni is a student at Fairmount Park Elementary. His teacher, Dr.Cheryl Copeland, believes in his talent so much that she took him to the auditions.
“He’s a showman,” Hinson said excitedly. “So natural and a joy to watch. He has the ability to observe music, internalize and interpret it and then replicate it perfectly.”
Jeloni can empathize with the plight of his stage character and his quest for a happy home because he himself is homeless. He lives in various motels and whatever accommodations his mother can make for that day.
Despite being homeless, when he steps on the dance floor, his world totally transforms on stage. “He motivates me to keep on looking on the bright side and to think of other people’s problem,” said Hinson.
Hinson, who has a master’s degree in Human Services Administration from Springfield College in Tampa, began dancing as a youngster in Newark, NJ. She was awarded a scholarship to the Dance Theater of Harlem at the age of 14 and after a storied career on the stage; she eventually founded ARTZ 4 Life Academy, 1751 Kings Highway in Clearwater.
She became the choreographer for the original production of Lavene Reed’s “Chocolate Nutcracker” for eight years before taking the reins as the show’s producer for another eight. Hinson decided to create “Family Blessings” because she wanted to have a production with a universal theme that was not seasonal and could be taken on the road.
“I’ve enjoyed my 25 years in the Tampa Bay area to share what was shared with me in the arts,” Hinson finished.
And for those 25 years, she has utilized the arts to inspire youngsters, adult and families to expand their boundaries and horizons and reach for higher goals and share the love through the arts.
Don’t miss this two-day extravaganza at the Mahaffey Theater Dec. 19 & 20. For tickets contact the Mahaffey Theater at (727) 893-7832 or call (813) 451-4410.