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Hosannas for ‘Black Nativity’

After several years of living in the Twin Cities, a professional theatergoer has had her fill of the perennial holiday productions: whirling choruses of chirping elves; sugar plum fairies who tote shopping bags; a musty moral to every story in which some Scrooge or other realizes the error of his ways. Enough already! Is it January yet?

But there’s one holiday show that’s sure to melt an icy heart: Penumbra Theatre’s warm, buttery production of “Black Nativity.”

This simple, straight-ahead holiday show is made mostly of gorgeous gospel music. “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hallelujah,” “Angels We Heard on High” and other standards sound positively divine when sung by the lustrous voices of Twin Cities luminaries like Aimee T. Bryant and T. Mychael Rambo. The production even tosses in some unexpected treats: My favorite is Ginger Commodore’s mournful rendition of the relatively obscure tearjerker, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”

By weaving wonderful voices with these traditional songs, the show’s creators manage a feat: They recover the nativity story in all its raw, joyous and affectionate human glory. Best of all, there’s not a candy cane or jolly fat man in sight! (However, there is one spectacular visual embellishment: choreography by Uri Sands of TU Dance.) For anyone who loves gospel music, or simply needs to rekindle a lost sense of holiday wonder, “Black Nativity” is the best of all possible holiday shows. Year to year, with all the recurrent productions I see, this is the only one that never gets old.

“Black Nativity.” Through Dec. 28. Penumbra Theater, St. Paul. Tickets: $38. Details here

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