There's enough Christmas music to last from now to Valentine's Day, all in a single performance of "Black Nativity," the flashy, tuneful, sparkling St. Louis Black Repertory Company musical revue that opened last night at the Grandel Theatre and will run through Dec. 18.
Conceived and directed by Ron Himes, and first presented a couple of years ago, it's a tuneful blend of the sacred and the profane, the old and the new, the classic and the contemporary with a cast of 22 bright, perky, talented singers and dancers, clad in some spectacular costumes coordinated by Jennifer (J.C.) Krajicek and Robert Van Dillen, and with Kyle Kelley as musical director.
Three talented high schoolers, Dominique Milam and the White sisters, Alexis and Tyler, are the keynote trio, all returning from the earlier production of "Black Nativity," and they're delightful. They sing and dance well, and Tyler, a sophomore, is a gem. All arms and legs, like many 15-year-olds, she often seems to appears awkward or gawky, but she's in complete control, and there's a sly, one-off comic touch to much of her work. The three girls lead the way into many numbers, though they often then stand aside to let others blend into, or finish, a number, but they add a natural feel to the production.
Women dominate the cast, but the men -- Mathew C. Galbreath, Germaine Depry Gbaho, Herman Gordon, Daniel Hodges, Curtis Jefferson and Leslie Johnson-- work and sing as if they were a dozen, offering every possible musical style. Gordon's "What Will You Bring the King?" a Diane White-Clayton composition sung in a manger setting, is rich, and Johnson's duet with Raphaelle P. Darden on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," was delightful.
The show, first produced a few years ago, opens with classic European and African hymns and folk tunes, dealing with the birth of Jesus and the visiting wise men, carrying the traditional frankincense and myrrh, but it does not lack for humor as some wonderful shepherds played by Matthew C. Galbreath and Curtis Jefferson, deal with a flock of funny, charming, noisy "sheep" that includes Kristian Greer, Kenyada Harris, Hodges, Milam and the White sisters.
Evann Jones scores with the Eartha Kitt classic, "Santa Baby," and now that Michael Buble has recorded "Santa Buddy," with the same music, it's probably time for Barbra Streisand or another Yiddish-speaking singer to come up with "Santa Bubbie." Jones also dances up a storm and is a delightful presence.
Himes' direction is focused and economical, with a great deal of song and dance in a show that runs a little more than two hours, and Alicia Gbaho's choreography is athletic and enjoyable. The bare stage is brightened by reflective bits in front of the upstage curtain that add random light notes here and there, and Nathan Schuer's lighting scheme works well. Kelley's quintet, which he leads from the piano, includes drummer Keith Fowler, percussionist James Belk, bassist Jeff Anderson and guitarist Craig Florez, and shows it can easily handle anything from Handel to hip-hop. A fine evening of musical theater.
Black Nativity, produced by the St. Louis Black Rep, will be at the Grandel Theatre through Dec. 18