Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Black Nativity (2018) at Penumbra Theatre

Always a great way to start the holiday season off on the right note, Black Nativity is back at Penumbra Theatre, running through December 23.

This perennial favorite tells the story of the birth of Christ through music and dance, with many familiar faces and voices.
In this year's version, Jennifer Whitlock narrates the words of Langston Hughes, offering both gravitas and humor in her reading. She's also delightful to watch as she enjoys the music, which is to be expected, since she's performed in more than twenty years of Black Nativity productions. See our review of the 2015 Black Nativity for some of our own history with the show. Dennis Spears returns as a soloist, joined this year by the magnificent Greta Oglesby, whose wonderful voice and regal presence are always a treat to see on stage.

Yolande Bruce returns as both a stunning soloist and as the animated leader of the eight-person chorus, consisting of members of Kingdom of Life Church in Robbinsdale. For a relatively small group, they make a mighty and joyful noise. Musical director Sanford Moore plays keyboards and leads four other musicians in a terrifically tight ensemble.

Dances choreographed by Uri Sands are beautifully performed by Jacob Lewis and Taylor Collier, enacting the young Joseph and Mary making their way to Bethlehem. (At some performances, MerSadies McCoy dances as the "spirit.") Lance Brockman's simple set and Kathy Maxwell's lighting enhance this show, directed once again by Lou Bellamy. And it fits into one of my favorite theatrical categories: 90 minutes with no intermission!

No matter how many times I see this show, it always manages to lift my spirits and recharge my holiday spirit. It has that effect on the rest of the audience as well, judging by the clapping and cheering. I heartily recommend it for everyone, whether you are excited for Christmas or a Scrooge in the making.