Review | Black Nativity: pure delight

Penumbra Theatre, through Dec 24

Greta Oglesby and Dennis W. Spears in BLACK NATIVITY. Photo by Caroline Yang.

Great balls of Gospel fire! Toe tapping tuneage! Satan-busting religiosity! Take me now, Lord!

If Black Nativity (Penumbra Theatre, through, appropriately, Dec 24) doesn’t utterly transport you into an exquisite world of Gospel-fueled Christmas passion, well then, you have deep personal problems and it is unlikely that we at will be able to assist you in any meaningful way. Even a crusty old atheist like myself was able to set aside his unbelief and groove to the Christmas story as put forward by the astonishing team at Penumbra. Praise Him!

How did they do it? Easy. They got three of the best singers in the twins – the dapper Dennis W. Spears; the passionate Greta Oglesby; the super-talented Yolande Bruce, who niftily combines gorgeous singing with equally gorgeous choir directing. Put them together with, arguably, the best pianist around (Sanford Moore), a crackerjack band, a crackerjack choir (from the Kingdom of Life Church in R’dale). Toss in two excellent dancers – Randall Riley and Taylor Collier. Oh, and the Nativity story as written by the late great Langston Hughes, recited by the decidedly unlate Jennifer Whitlock. Swirl it all together in a production directed by the seasoned Lou Bellamy, Penumbra’s founder.

Like I said: easy.

Black Nativity also features excellent Christmas music, old and new. “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Drummer Boy.” A few examples. This music is extremely well done. Unlike the kitschy cra—, er, stuff you’ll hear at Target. The artists conduct themselves with taste as well as power.

At one point I looked back… and I saw empty seats! This is wrong. Black Nativity should be SRO, sold out to the walls. So: your duty is clear. Buy a ticket and go. You’ll be happy.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.



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