With it’s rousing gospel music and Alvin Ailey-inspired choreography, Congo Square Theatre’s “Black Nativity: A Gospel Song Play” is the single most electric Christmas show in Chicago. In a town where countless versions of “A Christmas Carol” are staged every year—note to local theater companies: enough already—Langston Hughes’ lushly Afrocentric and unabashedly Christian musical stands out. And it is a show with a great sense of humor, which is no small matter these days. This is also a production in need of vast improvements. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event, albeit a tighter one. The first act is devoted entirely to the birth of Christ, and here the show is at its best. The second act is less cohesive, a thumbnail sketch outlining the history of gospel music that starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper. The ensemble works hard, that’s without question, but when the energy and joy of gospel gives way to modern R&B, the momentum quickly dissolves. Which brings up another matter: If Act Two is strictly about the evolution of spiritual music, there is a conspicuous lack of hip-hop rhythms, which have increasingly made their way into a number of churches. The absence is especially mind-boggling when you consider Grammy nominee and Chicago native Kanye West is being celebrated for one of the year’s best tracks, “Jesus Walks.” (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.