One of my favorite traditions is going to a show with my family every holiday season. But I’ll be upfront: I’m a selfish mother. Ever since my two college-aged kids were toddlers, I have always taken them to performances that entertained both them and me, a grown-up who loves the arts. (Let’s just say we passed up shows like Charlie Brown on Ice.) Thankfully, Portland’s performing arts scene explodes during the holidays with artful shows that appeal to a variety of ages.
Seeing creative performances as a family has nourished my children’s appreciation for the arts. Although it’s been harder to continue this tradition as my children get older and busier, it has definitely paid off. My son, a college lacrosse player, has been enjoying recent visits to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. And my daughter is now a big fan of theater, dance and fine arts.
If you’d like to take in some of Portland’s holiday shows that will thrill both you and your kids, consider trying out a few of my favorites.
Don’t miss the larger-than-life larvae, penguins, paper bags and other inventive creatures that come to life on Imago’s stage. The combination of puppetry, acrobatics and theater create magic you won’t forget. “It’s a long process of experimentation and refinement,” says Jerry Mouawad, who created Imago with his wife. They present their signature show, Frogz, during the holidays. It has amazed and delighted people, young and old, for more than 30 years — longer than any other local performance. Why are the fans so loyal? “A sense of awe and wonder. Good theater and good art makes you feel alive,” says Mouawad. Imago has traveled around the world. This year, the troupe tours the U.S. and France. For all ages.
December 12-January 4, Imago Theatre
Celebrating their 20th year anniversary, the mostly volunteer cast dedicates countless hours to preparing an Old World celebration of the winter solstice. “It’s my break from the daily grind,” says Angie Goffreddi, who has performed in the Revels musicals for four years. “Even with all the Christmas songs, sales and Santa Clauses, I don’t start feeling like it’s Christmas until I go see the Revels or perform in the show.” This year’s musical takes us to the London Tower in the 17th century. Many cast members will be donning gorgeous costumes rented from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The show is rife with traditions like singalongs, sword dances and a Celtic dance that’s reminiscent of a conga line. Advice: Participate! For all ages.
December 18-23, St. Mary’s Academy
The Trail Band
This homey variety show serves up holiday cheer with humorous skits and music ranging from blues to Celtic to rock. “It’s really fun,” says musician and show co-creator Rindy Ross. “We are a family.” One of my favorites, actor Scott Parker, plays 6-year-old Harold who tells a hilarious nativity story with a suitcase of dolls. Another highlight, Gayle and Phil Neuman show off historical instruments, like a horn that looks like a radiator and another horn that stretches the entire length of the stage. Trail Band fans will miss a bright star of the show — soul singer Linda Hornbuckle — who died last month of cancer. “She would’ve wanted this to be a joyful event,” says Ross. In my opinion, this is best for ages 9 and up.
Various dates and locations through December 14
This cynical and funny monologue chronicles humorist David Sedaris’ desperation job as an elf at Macy’s. “The biggest laugh comes when I change into my elf costume and the Santaland set is revealed,” says actor Darius Pierce, who plays Crumpet the elf. Crumpet grumbles about the impatience and pettiness of many parents who take their children to see Santa and the humiliation of being a grown man working as an elf. “There’s a lot of calling out a lot of things that everybody sees, but we don’t say because it’s inappropriate. There’s a bursting of the balloon,” says Pierce. “But the show ultimately really loves Christmas and has a good heart.” For high schoolers and college-aged kids.
Through December 28, Ellyn Bye Studio
For information about holiday performances around Oregon and southwest Washington, check out our best bets list from Oregon Art Beat.
Editor’s Note: Portland Revels and Portland Center Stage’s Santaland Diaries are OPB sponsors.