THEATER | From dancing chitlins to rapping reindeer, Sounds of Blackness celebrate the holidays their way


I went to see the Sounds of Blackness performance of The Night Before Christmas—A Musical Fantasy at the Guthrie Theater on December 13.

The Guthrie’s website promised this: “Minnesota’s three-time Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness return with their performance The Night Before Christmas—A Musical Fantasy, a contemporary adaptation of the beloved poem ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas.’ This family-friendly musical production brings Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph the Rappin’ Reindeer to life in hilarious song and dance, as they learn the true meaning of Christmas. The music ranges from R&B/hip-hop to jazz, blues, and gospel and features Sounds of Blackness singers and band in show-stopping, roof-raising songs and scenes. This is a must-see performance during the holiday season.” Really that just about sums things up.

This performance marked the 32nd anniversary of this production. That explains the confusion I had about a show that had clearly been well-rehearsed, choreographed, costumed, staged, etc. with only one performance scheduled. I could also tell that the audience was very familiar with the story and with many of the cast members. There were many families there, with everyone dressed in their best for what was obviously a longstanding holiday tradition.

This really is a musical concert wrapped loosely around a holiday story. The show starts with the extended family gathered together in celebration on Christmas Eve. During this act the songs are traditional holiday fare—although each in its own unique rendition. The second act “Fantasy” finds the family all tucked in their beds. Mama had put the chitlins on to cook hours before and had left them for Santa to enjoy. Mama and Papa are woken by the appearance of singing and dancing stockings and chitlins. I thought the chitlins were greens (I was mixing them up with collards) until references were made to “bad smelling,” “greasy,” and “intestinal.” I researched and found that chitlins are a type of food made from pig intestines. They are especially popular during Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations among African-American families.

In the third act, there are visits from not only Santa and Mrs. Claus but also six sassy reindeer (down from eight because of budget issues) and Rudolph himself trying to get a cut of the action. The reindeers plan to go on strike and leave Santa stranded high and dry. All conflict is finally resolved as the children awake and implore all to stop their bickering “For Christmas Sake.” There is something for all ages to enjoy but my favorite by far was the Reindeer singing “Dash Away All/Reindeer Revolt.” And the “Dance Chitlins Dance” number was very funny, with the chitlins slipping and sliding around the stage. David Hurst as Santa and Gregory Sears as the Narrator were also very good and very comfortable in their roles.

The show, including music and lyrics, is written, directed, and produced by Gary Hines, who has been the director of Sounds of Blackness since 1971. Sounds of Blackness are a local group that started at Macalester College in 1969 and now performs worldwide, including five appearances at the White House and opening ceremonies for the World Cup and the Olympics. Obviously they have a real love for this show and for this tradition. I would recommend that you watch next year for the return of the Sounds of Blackness.

This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.