ArtsWatch’s 28 tips for December

Yes, the month is heavy with holiday fare. Much of it is stuff to celebrate – and there are notable non-holiday offerings, too.

Welcome to December. Portland has lots and lots of shows for you, and some of them aren’t even holiday shows. All right, most are. But that’s the season – and there are lots of good ones, from Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Messiah to Portland Playhouse’s multiple-Drammy-winning A Christmas Carol and the Oregon Symphony’s New Year celebration with Beethoven’s Ninth and jazz sensation Esperanza Spalding. Don’t forget holdovers from late November such as Artists Rep’s Blithe Spirit, which gets into the, well spirit of the season even if it isn’t specifically a Christmas show. Here at ArtsWatch we’ve chosen 28 events out of a multitude of possibilities. Maybe we skipped one (or two, or more) you think we should’ve mentioned. Feel free to add the information in a comment.

Baby & Orbs, Imago's "Frogz." Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Baby & Orbs, Imago’s “Frogz.” Photo: Jerry Mouawad

The list:

Noël at Noël. Dovetailing neatly with Artists Rep’s current production of Blithe Spirit (and another nicely turned one at Salem’s Pentacle Theatre) singer extraordinaire Susannah Mars has assembled an evening of Noël Coward songs, which she performs with Del Lewis and a trio of young performers from the musical-theater company Staged! Artists Rep. Mondays, Dec. 1 and 8.

Over the River and Through the Woods. Portland Civic Theatre Guild‘s monthly reading series continues in the friendly atmosphere of The Old Church with Joe DiPietro’s comedy about a Jersey boy whose family bounces him between his home state and Florida – weekly. Coffee at 10 in the morning, showtime 10:30, and just 8 bucks: cry civilized. Dec. 2.

The Art of the Alphabet. The artist-run Waterstone Gallery has an intriguing group show this month: works inspired by each letter of the alphabet. The original works are on viw through December, and they’ll be collected into a book with an introduction by Portland writer Jim Carmin. Dec. 2-28.

"A Is for Apple," by Greg Wilbur, Waterstone Gallery. Photo: Dan Kvitka

“A Is for Apple,” by Greg Wilbur, Waterstone Gallery. Photo: Dan Kvitka

Holiday TimeMore from Susannah Mars, this time with Richard Weidlich and her longtime piano accompanist, Bill Wells. It’s the latest version of her always entertaining holiday show, which hits all the stops from frazzled to sentimental. She’s taking the show to Los Angeles and New York later in the month. Wilf’s, Dec. 3-4; Classic Piano, Dec. 6.

Firewall. A world premiere from BodyVox and its artistic leaders, Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton, blending dance and technology into an “optical deception.” Dec. 4-20.

Through the Lens: Portraiture & Self-Portraiture. Elizabeth Leach Gallery continues its look at how we look at ourselves and others. A dozen big-name artists, from Chuck Close and Nan Goldin to Robert Mapplethorpe and Carrie Mae Weems. Through Jan. 3.

Holiday Spectacular. The genre-bashing Portland Cello Project plays a pair of hometown gigs before heading out on the road of big chunks of January and February. Aladdin Theater, Dec. 5-6.

In Good Company. Northwest Dance Project continues the Portland dance scene’s welcome tendency to present new works by young choreographers, often active dancers, and in this case, members of NDP’s own talented troupe. The dancers have taken on a Mad Men theme for their new pieces, and will perform in the headquarters of the wind-energy company Vestas (the former Meier & Frank Wrehouse in Northwest Portland). Dec. 5, 6, 7.

A PGMC Holiday Celebration. The 150-voice Portland Gay Men’s Chorus celebrates its 35th season with this annual holiday show, which covers pretty much all of the seasonal bases. Newmark Theatre, four shows, Dec. 5-7.

Six Characters in Search of an Author. Veteran stage standout Todd Van Voris joins the students of the Portland Actors Conservatory, whose professional-program alums you see regularly on the city’s stages, in the West Coast premiere of Steve Moulds’ adaptation of the Pirandello mind-bender. Dec. 5-21.

Lamb and Norby, Third Rail's "Irma Vep." Photo: Owen Carey

Lamb and Norby, Third Rail’s “Irma Vep.” Photo: Owen Carey

The Mystery of Irma Vep. Isaac Lamb and Leif Norby, a couple of guys who know their way around a good comedy, take on the brash exaggerations of Charles Ludlam’s little comic romp through Victorian melodrama, Hitchcock mystery, and more. Third Rail Rep at the Winningstad Theatre, Dec. 5-Jan. 10.

Svoboda 75th Anniversary Tribute. December 6 is the 75th birthday of Tomas Svoboda, the Czech-American composer who was born in Paris and has become perhaps Oregon’s best-known composer in the classical tradition. The Agnieszka Laska Dancers, joined by pianist Igor Lipinski, will present a complete choreographic staging of Svoboda’s Nine Etudes in Fuge Style for Piano, volumes 1 and 2. Saint Annes Chapel, Marylhurst University, Dec. 6-7.

A Christmas Carol. Portland Playhouse brings back last year’s production, with music, of the Dickens classic. And why not? It took home lots of hardware at this year’s Drammy Awards. See why. Dec. 6-28.

Mary Poppins. The western world’s favorite nanny opens her umbrella at Northwest Children’s Theatre. Chim chim charee.  Dec. 6-Jan. 4.

Glory of Christmas. The venerable Oregon Repertory Singers, in their 41st season, performs Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour temps de Nöel; Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque; and Eriks Esenvalds’ Stars, for choir and tuned wine glasses. First United Methodist Church, Dec. 7, 12, 14.

"BodyLand" at White Bird. Photo: Christopher Askman

“BodyLand” at White Bird. Photo: Christopher Askman

BodyLand, Yosi Berg and Oded Graf. White Bird presents the U.S. premiere of the Israeli choreographers’ hourlong work exploring body culture and geographical cultural distinctions (the five male performers hail from four countries). Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU, Dec. 11-13.

It’s a Wonderful Life. Portland actor/singer and Broadway producer Corey Brunish directs Stumptown Stages‘ production of the Christmas classic at his namesake Brunish Theatre. Local luminaries Michael Allen Harrison, Alan Berg and Julianne R. Johnson-Weiss have composed the score for this musical adaptation.  Dec. 11-28.

Gospel Christmas. The Oregon Symphony‘s traditional holiday collaboration with the mass Northwest Community Gospel Choir, now in its 16th year, has become an annual favorite.  Dec. 12-14.

Michael Allen Harrison at The Old Church. The hardest-working man in Portland show biz brings his piano dexterity and annual Christmas revue to The Old Church for 20 shows with friends and fans. It’s become a beloved tradition. Dec. 12-26.

Handel’s Messiah. At least once in your life, you need to hear this memorable version live. Two outstanding organizations, Portland Baroque Orchestra and the choir Cappella Romana, combine on this masterwork in an intimate and beautiful hall, downtown’s First Baptist Church, that seems made for this sort of event. Five performances, including a young people’s matinee version Dec. 13. Dec. 12-15.

Frogz. Imago Theatre‘s leaping, crawling, hyperrealistic “children’s” show has been around so long that people sometimes forget what an innovative, theatrically imaginative show it is. Sure, kids love it. It’s pretty wonderful for adults, too. Imago, Dec. 12-Jan. 12.

OBT's "The Nutcracker." Photo courtesy Oregon Ballet Theatre.

OBT’s “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”  You can’t keep a good Sugar Plum Fairy down. Which means that Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s annual tree-trimmer, in the popular Balanchine version that has charmed millions of little girls and a surprising number of little boys over the decades, is back for another run at Keller Auditorium. Dec. 13-27.

Masterworks/Portland: El Greco. The Portland Art Museum‘s series of single-painting shows, which has looked at artists as diverse as Thomas Moran, Francis Bacon, Titian, and Raphael, turns to the 16th/17th century master Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better-known as El Greco, for its latest featured work. The painting, Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalene, is on loan from the Cleveland Art Museum. Dec. 13-April 5.

Handel’s Messiah and Judas Maccabaeus. The Choral Arts Ensemble and Portland Chamber Orchestra present a seasonal double-header at venues in Gresham, Hillsboro, and Portland; click the link for specifics. Dec. 17, 19, 20, 21.

The Christmas Revels: Keep the Magic. One of the city’s most genuinely charming community-based traditional groups, Portland Revels, begins this year’s revelry at the Tower of London in 2014 and winds back with a bored teen to the 17th century. This requires not only magic, but also plenty of music and dancing, and a few tall tales. The Revels move this year to a new venue, St. Mary’s Academy. Dec. 18-23.

The Great Antiphons of Advent. The remarkable women’s group In Mulieribus, which sings ancient music and makes it thoroughly accessible to modern ears, presents a concert inspired by Christmas music dating back to the 6th century. The broad-ranging music includes Josquin, Tavener, Hassler, Handl, and Wolfgang Plagge. St. Philip Neri Catholic Church. Dec. 19; St. James Catholic Church, Dec. 21.

A Christmas Carol: A Victorian Reading. After a couple of years off, actor Thomas Bray brings back his lively one-man adaptation, performed as if he were Dickens on one of his grand lecture tours. It’s an unusual and highly effective approach, back for one performance only. The Old Church, noon, Dec. 22.

Esperanza Spalding and the Ode to Joy. The Oregon Symphony celebrates the New Year with a dynamic program including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and four-time Grammy-winning jazz bassist and vocalist Spalding, a Portland native who’ll appear with her mentor, trumpeter Thara Memory. Dec. 30-31.


6 Responses.

  1. Bianca says:

    So many good choices this month, it’s true! We are excited at Echo Theater Company to debut a new ensemble piece entitled “Make it Home” on December 19. Make it Home is a non-traditional holiday show that will delight the entire family. Aerial Arts, Dance, Acrobatics, Humor, and non-linear Storytelling join forces to create a show about home, connections, generosity and possibility that is as funny as it is heartwarming and inspiring. for details and to purchase tickets.

  2. Jack Gabel says:

    too much too good to fit it all – understood – one personal tip: MAGICIAN AT THE PIANO – Dec. 4 at Polish Hall – – Igor LIpinski gives a special recital, before performing with ALD at Marylhurst University in our Svoboda Tribute this weekend

    MAGICIAN AT THE PIANO is worth catching, particularly for us (in the classical music world), who struggle to find ways to demystify classical music for “the man in the street” – Igor Lipinski, in his “The Secrets of Music” recitals, does it in spades – literally – check him out here –

  3. Noah Mickens says:

    We’ve got two different holiday shows warming up from Wanderlust Circus at The Alberta Rose Theatre:
    WHITE ALBUM CHRISTMAS with The Nowhere Band, 12/4 – 12/7 and 12/10 – 12/12
    video at

    and A CIRCUS CAROL with 3 Leg Torso 12/18 – 12/21
    video at

  4. Oregon ArtsWatch says:

    Noah, both shows look terrific. Thanks.

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