It’s December. Let there be dewdrops and nutcrackers, and Scrooges, and Worst Christmas Pageants Ever, and Singing Christmas Trees, and Hallelujah Choruses, and Revels, and all the rest of the great big holiday package. Let those who enjoy such things enjoy them, and those who don’t .. well, let them bide their time and drink their ale and find some happy alternatives. The season isn’t for everyone, for all sorts of valid reasons, including the obvious one that not everyone shares the holiday’s religious base. But it’s here, pretty much saturating the air we breathe. So, if you can, why not make the best of it, in all of its religious/pagan/solstice/hunkering-in/celebratory/sentimental glory? Just how far you dip in is up to you: a whole television network, Hallmark, lives and breathes for these few weeks! Or, if you prefer, feel free to decry the awful orgy of capitalistic excess that perverts the true meaning of any and everything, and makes bleating consumerist sheep of us all. That can be fun, too.
A few holiday shows of note:
- A Christmas Carol. Portland Playhouse’s musical-theater version swept up a bunch of Drammy Awards after last year’s performance, and is back for another go-round. First preview Wednesday; through December 24.
- Twist Your Dickens and The Santaland Diaries. Portland Center Stage goes back to the well with its two long-running holiday hits. The elvish Darius Pierce stars as the department-store elf in Santaland, Wednesday through December 27. Dickens, The Second City’s twist on A Christmas Carol, runs December 9-31.
- Shrek: The Musical. The big green lug shows up at Northwest Children’s Theater & School. Book and lyrics are by the terribly clever David Lindsay-Abaire. Saturday through January 3.
- Christmas at The Old Church. Pianist Michael Allen Harrison’s enormously popular seasonal show – this is its 25th season – runs December 9-26.
- Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Messiah. If you’ve never taken the plunge, let this be the year: it’s worth it. Nobody in these parts does Handel’s masterwork like PBO. An annual highlight. December 11-13.
- Black Nativity. PassinArt presents Lanston Hughes’s gospel retelling of the nativity story, one of the great American responses to the tale. December 11-20.
- ZooZoo: Final Return, Imago Theatre’s incredible globe-trotting menagerie of physical illusionists will be retiring after this hometown run. They really are quite amazing: catch them if you can. December 11-January 3.
- Oregon Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker. OBT brings back the Balanchine version, with its growing Christmas tree and warrior rats. December 12-26.
- Bellovoci Holiday Concert. The new vocal trio, with arrangements and direction by musical-theater maestro Rick Lewis, brings some flair to the standards. December 16-20.
- The Christmas Revels 2015: Celtic Crossing. This year, the Yuletide revelry takes place on a 19th century sailing ship taking immigrants from Ireland to New York. December 17-22.
This is First Thursday and First Friday week in Portland, when a whole slew of galleries open new exhibits. One of our favorite Northwest artists, Joe Fedderson, comes down from the North Cascades for a December show at Froelick Gallery, sharing space with the dramatic painter Miles Cleveland Goodwin. Fedderson, a member of the Colville tribe, blends traditional native patterns with a thoroughly modern perspective. His new show, Canoe Journeys, opens Thursday, and if you want the early lowdown, he’ll be at the gallery at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to lead an exhibition tour.
December is traditionally group-show month at a lot of galleries, and at a good gallery, those can be illuminating. A few shows, group and otherwise, to keep an eye on: Anne Siems‘s diaphanous Dream Lessons at Laura Russo; Eutectic’s group craft-art show In Flux, including Chris Antemann‘s exquisite porcelains and Peter Olson‘s photos-on-ceramics; and, if you feel like taking a hand in things yourself, Zero, a community memory project led by Kyoto artist Katsushige Nakahashi, at Reed College’s Cooley Gallery.
A few other things to consider this week:
- Viva’s Holiday. A new one-act opera with a decidedly modern and local twist: it’s based on Magic Gardens: The Memoirs of Viva Las Vegas. Music is by C.A. Corbell, libretto by Corbell and Liv Osthus, and soprano Helen Funston stars as the literary ecdysiast. Wednesday through Friday, Star Theater.
- Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca. White Bird brings this lauded Spanish dance and music troupe to the Newmark for shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
- Protecting the Herd. The always intriguing Performance Works NW hosts the Italian-American choreographer Alice Gosti and company in a work considering the 70th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascist rule. Thursday through Sunday.
- The Spin. Think Wheel of Fortune with a whole lot more movement. BodyVox’s newest show adds an element of chance and audience participation (always a chancy gambit) with a series of game show-style cues.Thursday through December 19.
- The Mousai: Vignettes. The Portland chamber ensemble perfforms a “theatrically enhanced” program of music written since 2010, much of it by composers younger than 40. Friday, PSU’s Lincoln Hall.
The Book of Merman: missionary position. Yes, that’s Merman, as in Ethel; not Mormon, as in Broadway mega-hit. Rather, it’s a mashup of the two, a musical in which our two bright-eyed missionaries land on the doorstep of the trumpet-voiced Broadway legend, and parody ensues. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Triangle’s sassy new production, declaring that if Mel Brooks and Cole Porter had had a musical baby, this would be it.
Final sketch: laughing all the way. ” ‘This is for Andy. This is for all of us,’ (Ted) Douglass said simply, before joining in on a joyous routine to Cake’s alt-rock version of I Will Survive.” Marty Hughley discovers the heart behind the comedy in 3rd Floor’s Final Chapter, performed after the death of co-founder Andy Buzan.
The culturally crucial Great American Dream Machine. “Imagine you’re at the most fascinating, offbeat cocktail party the early 1970s could muster,” Marc Mohan begins, and then observes that “the people are endlessly intriguing, and they come at you in such a rapid-fire manner that you start to wonder if someone spiked that fondue.” Such is the experience, he argues, of watching the “imperfect but unjustly forgotten television relic, The Great American Dream Machine,” which is newly out on DVD.
The new shall lie down with the old. At Portland Piano International, Jeff Winslow writes, Henry Kramer’s “extraordinary artistry” adeptly bridges the sometimes uneasy gap between new music (Eugene composer David Crumb) and old (Chopin, Brahms).
Classical music: shutting down a comment thread. ArtsWatch editor Barry Johnson did just that yesterday, on the grounds that some of the comments in response to Tristan Bliss’s “un-review” of a 45th Parallel concert were simply too vituperative. And in this post, which has sparked a healthy response, he explains why. Check it, and Bliss’s original column, and decide for yourself where the truth, if any, resides. Then, if you want, leave your own comment on Post No. 2.
Portland Ballet’s Day by Day. ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini sat down for a long chat with Anne Mueller, recently named co-artistic director of The Portland Ballet, about what’s cooking at PB and about Mueller’s new ballet, Day by Day, which the company premiered on Thanksgiving weekend.
The Nutcracker and its many mysteries. Had it up to your sugar plums with the old-standby holiday ballet? Not Alastair Macaulay, chief dance critic for the New York Times, who’s pumped for yet another season. Despite its kitsch, cuteness, and merchandising, he argues, it is “among the most layered of all works of art. … There are mysteries at its heart that don’t vanish and wonders that don’t diminish.”
Bag&Baggage’s Kristmas Karol: confounding expectations. In the third annual chapter of its original holiday parodies, Brett Campbell writes, B&B outdoes itself, creating in this “sublimely silly final installment” both a parody and a parody of its own parody.
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