1 The story of Mary and Joseph — social outcasts who just happen to be carrying the light and salvation of the world — resonates among people at the bottom of America's caste system. That is evident in Penumbra Theatre's spirited and celebratory "Black Nativity." Directed with simplicity by Lou Bellamy, the oratorio reunites theater with its roots in ritual and religion. Hymns, carols and spirituals flow with passion from fulsome vocalist Jamecia Bennett and stylish baritone Dennis Spears, pictured. Yolande Bruce not only conducts the precise and powerful choir but also delivers in her sweet soprano. Singer Deborah Finney sounds like Aretha Franklin taken back to her gospel roots. Maestro Sanford Moore orchestrates the songs in jazz, blues and happy-dance gospel styles. Ends Dec. 20; penumbratheatre.org.
2 In 1962, French director Francois Truffaut persuaded Alfred Hitchcock, "the greatest film director in the world," to have a series of in-depth discussions. Their articulate, witty sessions became "Hitchcock/Truffaut," one of the finest film books ever published. Now director Kent Jones has turned still photos and tape recordings from the encounter into an outrageously good documentary. Jones includes infectious commentary from Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher. Even if you haven't read the book, the film will add a new dimension to your appreciation of Hitchcock's films.
4 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have delivered the best Hanukkah song since Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song." "8 Days of Hanukkah" is breezy, vintage soul with mentions of such Hanukkah essentials as the Maccabees, dreidels, latkes, brisket and the shamas and menorah. The song is featured on one of the season's best holiday albums, "It's a Holiday Soul Party," which includes yule originals such as "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" and reworked classics such as "White Christmas" as a double-time Chuck Berry boogie.
3 There is much to savor in Stephen King's "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," a collection of short stories that, despite its horror-centric title, also touches on a wide range of other genres, from drama to humor and even poetry. Each entry is introduced by a brief foreword in which King tells the story behind the story: how and why he came to write it. He also has reconstituted a never published story he wrote when he was 19, which was 49 years ago. King long ago lost the original, but — as with any first love — he remembers it vividly.
5 As the title suggests, John Heimbuch's new play, "A Midwinter Night's Revel," is a frosty homage to Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He draws from Bard motifs and pagan rituals, placing his story in England during World War I. Walking Shadow's production at Red Eye tests our patience in the first act but sparks some magic in the second. Lights and sound are essential pieces; the set uses Stonehenge as a guide, and the costumes are perfectly matched to character. Ends Dec. 30; walkingshadowcompany.org.