Lorraine Hansberry's Black Nativity is at its best when it's not taking itself too seriously


Through Dec. 23

Tickets are $22-$36; call 474-8800 or visit www.lhtsf.org.

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F.

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There is nothing better than watching Bay Area blues singer Faye Carol, with her four-inch nails and bright blue eyeshadow, swaggering around the stage belting out bluesy, gospel songs about Jesus. She is a true local treasure. Strangely, the rest of this jazzy retelling of the Nativity story, complete with a 20-person gospel choir, doesn't quite live up to its billing as a "hand-clapping, foot-stomping" celebration of Christmas. Perhaps it was the seriously stoic expressions most cast members wore (as if to say Jesus is no smiling matter). Or perhaps it was that the two-man band used electric keyboards and electronic drums instead of the real thing, diluting much of the music's soul-stirring religious fervor. Besides the Nativity story, there is also a behind-the-scenes side plot about a church group putting on the show. This is where the cast relaxes and finds the joy and laughter missing from other parts of the show. Luther Michael Spratt is the comic relief, turning in a hilarious performance as the gangly drunk needing to be saved. The second act discovers its holiday spirit; the cast actually leaves the stage to sing to us and shake our hands. When Nativity doesn't take itself so seriously, it gets our toes tapping. Unfortunately, much of it feels too stiff and self-important to make us want to jump out of our seats and dance deliriously in the aisles.

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