ArtsWatch Weekly: Outsmarting the Grinch

Stuck in an impeachment funk? Liberace, Liza, shape-note singing, and a whole lot of holiday shows to reset the mood.


IT’S BEEN SOMETHING OF A HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS WEEK across America. But if I can draw your attention away from the impeachment proceedings for a few minutes, let me gently remind you that it’s also a season of peace on Earth, good will toward men, and more holiday shows than you can shake a peppermint stick at. Ah, the traditions. Ah, the welcome rituals. Ah, the familiar faces of … Liberace and Liza Minnelli?

That’s the lively and somewhat tongue-in-cheek holiday duo arriving at CoHo Theatre for a limited run of A Very Liberace & Liza Christmas, a tribute cabaret starring the casino-lounge-smooth David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris. “The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special,” Christa McIntyre wrote in an enthusiastic review for ArtsWatch three years ago. “Your foot will be tapping, and don’t expect the rest of you to remain idle in your seat.” The show gets four performances Dec. 26-29, and we’re giving you early warning in case it sells out, which it just might. Ring-a-ling ding. It’s a sequin thing.

David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, bringing a bit of Liberace/Liza glamour to the holiday stage at CoHo Theatre. Photo: Mike Marchlewski 

A few more holiday bets that don’t involve congressional theatrics:

  • Portland Revels is celebrating its 25th year of making old-fashioned merriment involving Morris dancers, Early Music makers, Lords of Misrule, winter solstices and hearty communal singing. This year’s edition, The Ghosts of Haddon Hall, continues through Dec. 22 in downtown Portland’s Newmark Theatre.
     
  • I’m a fan of In Mulieribus, the Portland women’s vocal ensemble that specializes in performing Early Music, with frequent forays into more modern sounds. Medieval and contemporary music often have the sort of fascinating connection that medieval and contemporary visual art can have, and In Mulieribus keeps the connection vivid. Two shots at the group’s holiday concert, Star of WonderFriday in Portland and Saturday in Vancouver, Wash
     
  • Entering the homestretch for their final weekends of performances are Broadway Rose’s department-store musical It Happened One Christmas, with a terrific performance by Jennifer Goldsmith; John Longenbaugh’s The Christmas Case: A Lady Brass Mystery, at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie; and the affecting premiere of Maya Malán-González’ A Xmas Quento Remix, at Milagro. 
     
  • Portland Playhouse continues its sparkling, verging-on-a-tradition musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ evergreen A Christmas Carol through Dec. 29, with Michael Mendelson as this year’s Scrooge.
     
  • At The Armory, Portland Center Stage continues to tip farther back than Dickens in the Olde English Holiday Sweepstakes with its warmly received Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, riffing on Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice. (Things get a trifle rowdier beginning Dec. 28 when PCS’s revival of the sweaty, sexy cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens in The Armory’s suitably intimate downstairs Ellyn Bye Studio space.) 
Lauren Modica and Joshua J. Weinstein in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at The Armory. Photo: Russell J. Young



Give today. Keep the stories coming.

A season of sharing: Pierre Auguste Renoir, Young Girls Reading,
1891, oil on canvas, Portland Art Museum, bequest of Winslow B. Ayer.

ARTSWATCH WOULD LOVE YOUR HELP. As the calendar year nears an end, we’re asking you to join us in making it possible to present good journalism about arts and culture in Oregon. We don’t have a paywall: Anyone and everyone is welcome to read what we publish, free. That means the money it takes to do what we do comes from you, our readers, and the foundations and other groups that believe in what we do. We’d love you to be a part of us by sharing what you can. Laura Grimes, our executive director, explains how here.

You can double your pleasure, and effectiveness, by also donating before year’s end to the Oregon Cultural Trust. The Trust’s matching-gift provisions allow you a full credit on your Oregon state taxes for the amount you match, with some limits. ArtsWatch’s Lori Tobias talks with the Trust’s vice-chair, Niki Price, about how it works.

JOIN US AT ARTSWATCH. Become a member. Make a donation. It’s easy. Just press the “donate today” button below.

Thank you!



PHOTO: K.B. DIXON’S LENS ON WRITERS & TUBAS


Oregon writers Arthur Bradford (left) and Sophia Shalmiyev. Photos: K.B. Dixon

PHOTOGRAPHER AND WRITER K.B. DIXON HAS BEEN BUSY on the ArtsWatch front, giving our readers the gift of two sterling features in the past week:

  • The Artists Series: Writers, Part 2 continues his series of black-and-white portraits of Oregon artists, this time with ten significant writers ranging from veterans such as Floyd Skloot, Molly Gloss, and David Biespiel to newer voices including Karen Russell and Reema Zaman.
     
  • Tuba or not tuba: That’s the holiday question features eight photos from last Saturday’s 29th annual Portland Tuba Christmas in Pioneer Courthouse Square, bringing vivid visual life to my essay on the Ghosts of Tubas Past.
At Tuba Christmas: Sousaphones and knit caps. Photo: K.B. Dixon

MUSIC: BIG STORM, SHAPE NOTES, ALBUMS GALORE


Storm Large and microphone: a perfect pairing.

BEFORE MONDAY NIGHT’S OREGON SYMPHONY CONCERT The Storm Large Holiday OrdealMatthew Neil Andrews sat down with the Portland rocker/chanteuse/occasional classicist to talk about her musical and personal roots and how she got where she is. The concert’s over, but the interview’s a corker, filled with Large’s big, bawdy, rough-cut and often salty observations. Among other things, Large and Andrews talk at length about her triumphant performances in Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins: “nasty music about nasty people.”  

  • In MusicWatch Weekly: Year end album guide, Andrews dives deep into releases from an astonishing range of music makers, from Beethoven and Shostakovich to Danny Elfman and Pink Martini and King Gizzard.
     
  • In Singing across the centuries, Daniel Heila eagerly explores the deep-Americana, everyperson tradition of Portland Sacred Harp’s shape-note singing, in which people of all levels of experience and talent come together to create a genuinely joyful noise.
 Portland Sacred Harp brings out the gusto in shape-note singing.

DANCE: STOCKING STUFFERS, DEWDROPS & MORE


Kody Jauron and Katherine Disenhof in Andrea Parson’s Oh Deer! in NW Dance Project’s Winter Wonders. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert 

NW DANCE PROJECT’S RECENT SHOWCASE WINTER WONDERSElizabeth Whelan writes, reminds her of opening her Christmas stocking: A sampler of short pieces by the company dancers and resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, it felt a lot like a sampler plate of Grandma’s cookies. 

  • Jamuna Chiarini’s December DanceWatch, meanwhile, is chock full of possibilities for the coming week, from versions of The Nutcracker at Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland and Eugene Ballet downvalley to a Cirque Nutcracker with the Oregon Symphony, a slimmed-down Nutcracker Tea from Northwest Dance Theatre, movement theatrics from the critters of ZooZoo at Imago and the acrobats of Do Jump at Alberta Rose Theatre, and a Nightmare before Christmas from Steps PDX.
For four decades the acrobatic troupe Do Jump has been providing Portlanders with high-wire thrills and chills. Founder Robin Lane is back with a new holiday show, Celebrate the Season, with music from the mad geniuses of 3 Leg Torso with Joan Szymko and Pepe Raphael. Friday-Sunday, Alberta Rose Theatre. 

END NOTES: HOLIDAY TAILS FROM THE COAST


… and of course, there’s always whale-watching. Photo: Oregon State Parks 

PEOPLE ON THE OREGON COAST TEND TO COZY UP in front of the fireplace during the holidays, but they get around and about, too. If you live on the Coast, or are dropping in for some seasonal R&R, we’ve got you covered with Lori Tobias’s picks: a Red Octopus Christmas show and an exhibition of artistically transformed gourds in Newport; top-flight music in Nehalem and Cannon Beach; global food adventures in Cannon Beach; and, of course, that old reliable coastal attraction, winter whale-watching. 

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Bob Hicks is a Senior Editor and writer at Oregon ArtsWatch. He's been writing about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, first as arts editor and movie critic at the Oregon Journal, then for 25 years at The Oregonian as a writer and editor covering the performing, visual, and literary arts. His most recent art books include "Kazuyuki Ohtsu" (Pomegranate), "James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time" (Hallie Ford Museum of Art), and "Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora" (Pomegranate). His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Prologue, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series “Today I Am.”

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