Review: ‘Black Nativity’ at Celebration Arts

Black Nativity: Thu 8pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 12/22; $10-$20; Celebration Arts, 2727 B St.; (916) 455-2787;
Rated 3.0

It’s difficult to categorize Harlem Renaissance poet, author and playwright Langston Hughes’ holiday musical Black Nativity. It’s not really a play—it’s more like a mash-up of a church Christmas pageant and a gospel choir jam.

The first half is the birth-of-Jesus story told with an African influence using Hughes’ lyrics. It includes familiar elements such as Mary and Joseph’s journey, the shepherds and the Maji and watchful villagers. The second half ditches a storyline and offers up hand-clapping church service gospel songs.

This is the second year that Celebration Arts has produced this seasonal performance, and they deliver with gorgeous African-influenced headgear and robes, dances and songs.

The cast includes more than 20 members, most who are chorus members who portray African villagers in the first half, and a full gospel choir in the second half. Not only do they offer up Langston’s original songs, but also the traditional “Joy to the World,” “Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”

It’s evident that most of the performers were picked for their vocal talents over their acting abilities, but the production is a song-centered performance.

So come with the expectations of song over story, and stay for a rousing Christmas choir concert.