By Tina Arth
Trust Broadway Rose to close its 25th season with panache! This year’s Christmas show, A Very Merry PDX-Mas, is an updated reprise of Celebrate Home, the first show to play at the venerable theater company’s New Stage in 2008. The show provides exactly the kind of experience its audiences expect for the holidays – impeccable vocals, a liberal dose of humor, some fine dancing, and a measured dose of scene-stealing kiddos to charm even the surliest Scrooge.
Local director/author Abe Reybold’s original show was a lovingly Portland-themed parody of traditional holiday revues, and the occasional facelifts ensure that it stays fresh as it returns to the New Stage every few years. Director Dan Murphy and a spectacular production team join with a dynamite cast to present a two-hour medley combining traditional, untraditional, and slightly twisted Christmas music into the perfect kickoff of the 2016 holiday season.
Vocal arranger Jay Tumminello has molded the seven cast members’ seamless, and often exquisite, harmonies in the show’s many ensemble numbers – but each actor has ample opportunities to shine in solo and duet arrangements, too. A leading contender for laugh-filled highlight of the show is, surprisingly, also a showcase for Dru Rutledge’s flawless operatic training – her “Exsultate, Jubilate: Alleluia” is simultaneously hilarious and ethereal, and a great vehicle for her comic as well as vocal chops. The women’s ensemble (Rutledge, Sarah DeGrave, Cassi Q. Kohl, and Danielle Valentine) does a breathtakingly beautiful version of “The First Noel” in the Big Nativity Medley, ensuring that we get an ample serving of serious Christmas music to complement the show’s lighter moments. Collin Carver simply nails some of the funniest numbers, including a slightly amended version of “My Favorite Things” and the ubiquitous “My Birthday Comes On Christmas.” Isaac Lamb’s “I Like Old People” provides some serious competition in the lively “Kidz Medley” – there’s something about a big bearded guy playing a kid (well) that just resonates with the audience! The eight real children in the show are a bit more refined when they appear in Act II – at least, until they break into their funky dance routine. Another unforgettable moment is “The Annoying Drummer Boy” featuring the four women plus Carver and Benjamin Tissell– we’ve all been there, right?
The Portland-specific vibe of the show is faithfully captured by scenic designer Jim Crino’s set – we get the clock at Union Station, the curiously phallic Portland Theater sign, St. John’s Bridge, and Mt. Hood gleaming in the background. Costume designer Brynne Oster-Bainnson brings the theme home with a surfeit of lumberjack plaids and subdued colors – in place of red and green the cast sparkles in cranberry and loden (accented, of course, with tasteful touches of brown). As always, the accompaniment alone is worth the price of admission - music director/pianist Jeffrey Childs accompanied by bassist Fletcher Nemeth and percussionist Bill Norris-York are the hardest working folks on stage.
A perfect mix of old standbys, newer songs, and flat-out parodies in A Very Merry PDX-Mas makes it an ideal way to usher in the holiday season. Out of town guests will love the Portlandia flavor, and locals will cheerfully acknowledge that yes, we are just a little bit weird (and proud of it).
A Very Merry PDX-Mas is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Thursday, December 22nd. See their website (broadwayrose.org) for specific performance dates and times.