Black Nativity: Making a glorious noise

Dennis W. Spears.

Dennis W. Spears.

The last few weeks have probably left you feeling raw, with people shooting up holiday parties, health-care clinics, and Eagles of Death Metal concerts in the name of religion. A leading presidential candidate thinks it would be cool to keep people of a certain faith out of a country built on the idea of religious liberty. And a whole segment are up in arms because a business' seasonal coffee cup, which is of the non-religious side of the season, isn't religious enough for them.

All of that can make you feel pretty down on Christmas, and religion in general. Penumbra Theatre is here to remind us of the story behind all of the celebrations: A poor boy born in a stable who brought a message of eternal peace for all. It is done through a terrific mix of glorious gospel music and the poetry of Langston Hughes.

You don't have to be religious to be moved by the program, or appreciate the talents of the company. The piece tells the Nativity mainly through song, though Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy reads the text while several soloists and a choir from the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church and a hot five-piece band accompany them through music.

It flows the way you think it would. Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem. They can't find a place to stay, and end up in a stable. Jesus is born, "Among the swine." Shepherds and wise men come.

It's the music (directed by Sanford Moore) that tells the story, whether as traditional gospel tunes or interpretations of carols. The one-two punch "O Come All Ye Faithful' and "The Little Drummer Boy" completely recasts those songs. Main soloists Dennis W. Spears, Jamecia Bennett, and Yolande Bruce are tremendous throughout, and they get able assists from members of the choir.

Dancers Taylor Collier and Randall Riley add to the story, showing us Mary and Joseph before and after Jesus' birth. The design team craft a simple-looking setting, but the subtle use of lights and other design help to keep our focus during the 80-minute show on the performers, and the glorious story they are telling.


Black Nativity

Through Dec. 20

Penumbra Theatre,

270 N. Kent St., St. Paul


For tickets and more information, call 651-224-3180 or visit online.