The PoMo Guide to Portland's Holiday Shows

From new holiday plays and the Tony Starlight Christmas Show to Handel’s Messiah and the Christmas Ship Parade, Portland's putting on plenty of festivities this season.

By Aaron Scott and Jonathan Frochtzwajg November 14, 2013 Published in the December 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

For this year's holiday season, we highlighted four brand new shows that are taking a risk to invigorate the traditional holiday fare. But we also did our best to compile a guide to some of the season's biggest and most interesting events for all tastes. Read on and get out there.

For the Traditional Dash of Hearth-Warming Performance

Plaid Tidings
Nov 29–Dec 22 In Stuart Ross’s 1990 musical revue Forever Plaid, a ’60s high school vocal quartet returns from the dead for one last performance after perishing in a collision with a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls. Broadway Rose is staging the show’s Christmas-ified sequel, which sees the foursome come back once again at the request of Rosemary Clooney. Thu–Sat; matinees Sat–Sun. Broadway Rose New Stage

A Christmas Carol
Dec 13–29 Can Portland Playhouse give these ghosts new life? A tough challenge even for one of Portland’s most challenging companies, but we have high hopes. They're performing a new adaptation by Rick Lombardo that includes original music and actors who play their own instruments. Read our full review. Portland Playhouse

The Nutcracker
Dec 14–24 George Balanchine was among the 20th century's most celebrated choreographers, and his take on Tchaikovsky's masterpiece is still performed every year by the New York City Ballet. The Oregon Ballet Theater is the only company west of the Mississippi licenced to perform this verison of the holiday classic. Check out our look at OBT's Nutcracker by the numbers in December's PoMo Picks. Keller Auditorium

The Darker, Sardonic, and Hilarious Side of the Holidays

Review Twist Your Dickens
Nov 20–Dec 22 If any local theater company understands that there’s demand in Portland for nontraditional Christmas shows, it’s Portland Center Stage: this is the fifth consecutive year the company is presenting David Sedaris’s caustic The Santaland Diaries (see below). PCS pushes further this season by bringing famed improv group Second City’s rendition of A Christmas Carol to it’s main stage. Each performance of Twist Your Dickens is roughly 30 percent improvisation and features revolving local guests. Read our review from the viewpoint of both Scrooge and Tiny Tim. Gerding Theatre

The Santaland Diaries
Nov 24–Dec 29
 David Sedaris’s account of working as an elf at a Manhattan Macy’s during the Christmas season somehow manages to be both critique and classic. It is also very funny. Darius Pierce returns as Crumpet the Elf. Tue–Sun; matinees Thu & most Sat–Sun. Gerding Theater at the Armory

Rudolph! On Stage!
Nov 29–Dec 21 
Since starting Bad Reputation in 2010, local funny-woman Shelley McLendon has given the ’80s Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House and teen-vampire flick The Lost Boys the Bad Rep treatment—that is, performed their screenplays on stage more or less straight, letting their so-bad-it’s-good comedy speak for itself. Now, McLendon puts Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer in her affectionately mocking crosshairs. We predict it's a direct hit. CoHo Theatre

Review It's a (Somewhat) Wonderful Life
Nov 29–Dec 22 
Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer's original adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life is a metatheatrical critique of this winter hinterland, framing the holiday TV staple within a story about jaded voice actors in a 1940s radio production of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic. "Bag&Baggage’s reworking of the beloved film doesn't exactly break new ground, but it's plenty entertaining for fans of the original." Read our full review. Venetian Theatre

Review Xmas Unplugged: The Reason for the Season/The Night Before Christmas
Nov 29–Dec 29 
For his first holiday season as Artists Repertory Theatre’s new artistic director, Dámaso Rodriguez shunned roasted old chestnuts in favor of a double helping of spiked contemporary work. First up is a world-premiere production of Matt Pelfrey’s The Reason for the Season, a one-act about a couple who hold Kris Kringle captive to negotiate over their kid’s gifts. After intermission comes the notoriously dark British playwright Anthony Nielsen’s The Night Before Christmas, which has nothing to do with the poem and stars a junkie claiming to be an elf. Read our review. Artists Repertory Theatre

A John Waters Christmas
Dec 6 at 8 The infamous cult filmmaker behind Pink Flamingoes and Hairspray brings his high-camp, low-class sensibility to the helplessly wholesome holiday. The last time he performed the monologue in Portland, his signature pencil moustache didn’t stop moving for the entire run time. Read our interview, in which he tells us about his love for Justin Bieber, why Santa is gay, cultural homogenization, Portlandia, and his favorite Christmas story. Aladdin Theater

A Christmas Carol + No One Likes Scrooge, a Bouffon Christmas Special
Dec 13–23 Post5 Theatre presents a double header for the season. In its take of A Christmas Carol, Philip J. Berns returns to single-handedly recount the entire story sans script with music by Christopher Beatty. Or, if you’re afraid of ghosts, how about Ugly Clowns trying to make sense of the hypocrisy and commercialism of the season in the absurd No One Likes Scrooge? Post5 Theatre 

Holiday Spectacles for the Raucously Decadent

The Tony Starlight Christmas Show

Dec 12 at 8 Stage veteran Tony Starlight has been cracking holiday audiences up for year’s with his Vegas-style-spoof performances that combine jazz parodies, comedy, and Christmas tunes—that is, Frosty the Snowman gets arrested and Starlight does his best Bing Crosby and Neil Diamond. Alberta Rose Theatre

Wanderlust Circus: A Circus Carol 
Dec 20–­22 This quirky adaptation of the Dicken’s classic has totally gone carnival. Think energy-packed holiday musical with acrobats and galore, and accompanied by gypsy ensemble 3 Leg Torso. Epic. Alberta Rose Theatre

For Carols, Strings, and Sacred Hymns

Gospel Christmas director Charles Floyd.

Oregon Symphony
Selected performances

  • Gospel ChristmasDec 13–15 For one of the high-energy highlights of its season, the Oregon Symphony teams up with the Northwest Community Gospel Choir, who first came together to perform at this event in 1999. Fri–Sat; matinee Sun
  • Natalie ColeDec 21 at 7:30 Nat King Cole’s daughter, of “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” fame, seduced a sellout crowd at the Schnitz last Valentine’s Day; now, the R&B singer returns to the concert hall for an evening of Christmas crooning. 
  • Comfort & JoyDec 22 at 4 Resident conductor Paul Ghun Kim presides over a family-friendly—note the budget-conscious price—matinee of Christmas-themed selections from the classical repertoire.

The Christmas Revels: Christmas in Old Europe
Dec 6-15 The 19th annual Christmas Revels tells the story of a Winter Solstice party in Old Europe, featuring a new astronomical clock and a Mummers competition. History nerds will love the accuracy and music nerds will love the 65-member chorus and music by the Portland Brass Quintet, but anyone can enjoy the beautiful, slightly comic performances. Oh, and prepare yourself for audience participation. Thu–Sun; matinees Sat–Sun. Scottish Rite Center

Oregon Repertory Singers
Dec 8–15 ORS’s Glory of Christmas combines the old and the new in a program that includes new arrangements by ORS accompanist and local musician Naomi LaViolette alongside classic carols and more contemporary greats by the likes of Anton Bruckner, Arvo Part, Franz Biebl, and Portland native Morten Laurisden's world famous setting of O Magnum Mysteriu. Fri; matinees Sat–Sun. First United Methodist Church

Handel’s Messiah
Dec 13–16 It’s the return of the Messiah: Portland Baroque Orchestra and vocal ensemble Cappella Romana reprise their yearly Christmastime performance of Handel’s oft-produced oratorio (it’s the one with the Hallelujah Chorus). For those who can’t wait for the Messiah ... to end, there’s one show featuring just the Christmas highlights. Fri–Sat; matinee Sun; Christmas highlights show Mon. First Baptist Church

Portland Symphonic Choir
Dec 14 & 15 This 135-member singing group, which serves as the official chorus of the Oregon Symphony, swells its ranks yet further for its holiday concert, WinterSong!, sharing the stage with a brass ensemble and Grant High’s Royal Blues choir to perform seasonal works from around the globe. Sat; matinee Sun. St. Mary’s Cathedral

Portland Cello Project
Dec 20 at 8 The versatile, genre-hopping, local string ensemble celebrates the release of a seasonally themed EP—the locally appropriate Winter (The Best Nine Months of the Year)—with a special Holiday Sweater Spectacular featuring Oregon Symphony principal cellist Nancy Ives, Tucson songwriter Howe Gelb of Calexico fame, and Portland folkies Laura Gibson and Laura Veirs. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Portland Youth Philharmonic
Dec 26 at 7:30 One of the country’s premier youth classical music associations presents its annual holiday extravaganza, featuring all four PYP ensembles and an alumni orchestra. Repertoire selections include French Romantic Hector Berlioz’s Le Corsaire overture and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Classical Revolution PDX: Bachxing Day
Dec 26 at 8 Classical Revolution PDX is on a mission to make classical music more accessible, in part by moving it out of the concert hall and into more informal settings (with booze). This annual staple for the group features the musicians’ own interpretations of Bach sonatas, cello suites, and cantatas with host Leo Daedalus (of The Late Now Show) firing up the revolutionaries. Alberta Rose Theatre 

Braving the Yuletide Chill

Christmas Ship Parade
Dec 6–21 In 1954, one solitary sailboat festooned with green bows embarked from the Portland Yacht Club to kindle holiday spirits all along the Columbia River. Fifty-nine years later, it’s become tradition for a flotilla of up to 60 boats mounted with light displays (and piloted by volunteer captains) to follow course every December (as well as chart the Willamette).

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