A refreshing alternative to the “Christmas Carol”/”Nutcracker” juggernaut, Langston Hughes’s “Nativity” offers a gospel-tinged retelling of the road to Bethlehem, paired with a succinct history of gospel music in America. If the transition between the two halves remains a bit of a mystery, the fervor with which Congo Square puts the show across leaves the audience little space to think about it. Relentlessly belting, smiling and shimmying us into submission for well over two hours, the cast draws on reserves of energy that could provide a viable alternative to Arctic drilling. In a particular highlight, Laura E. Walls and Jesse Dean Stanford briefly step into the formidable shoes of Mahalia Jackson and the Rev. James Cleveland without seeming effort, provoking murmurs of recognition. Mike Malone’s choreography rarely reaches beyond award-show level, and like most award shows, the pageantry of “Black Nativity” eventually starts to overstay its welcome. But along the way, we’re treated to such a wealth of Godiva-rich harmonizing, presented with such heartfelt sincerity by an ensemble bedecked in such a blaze of whirling color that carping about it ends up seeming, well, Scroogelike. “Black Nativity” remains a most welcome addition to Chicago’s Christmas calendar. (John Beer)
Congo Square’s “Black Nativity” plays at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, through December 31.