HOLIDAY THEATER SEASON can be a dark time for a critic: So begins the seemingly eternal run of holiday-themed plays we already reviewed five years ago, with well-intended attempts at alternatives usually serving to merely reinforce the treacly, universally appealing, age six to 60 vibe. Whether boasting the tasteless "Police Navidad" jokes (WTF) of last year's Twist Your Dickens at Portland Center Stage, or the beautiful costuming and strong performances bogged down by yawn-inducing dialogue in Blithe Spirit at Artists Repertory Theatre, the offerings of holiday theater season present the fallow period when ordinarily innovative (or at least grownup-oriented) theater companies cast off their good taste in favor of pandering.
If you are a childless adult—or a child-corralling adult who actually enjoys theater—it can be a painful time. There are exceptions: Bad Reputations' Rudolph—On Stage! (frequently starring our own Wm. Steven Humphrey!) is a show that you could take your nieces to and also laugh merrily all the way through yourself. I'm partial to The Santaland Diaries, and I hear excellent things about Portland Playhouse's A Christmas Carol. But if you're looking for a theatrical alternative to the staged equivalent of a sugary, mass-produced holiday cookie, you probably can't do better than Viva's Holiday, which is a Christmas opera about a stripper.
Yes, that's right! It's a Christmas opera about a stripper! Based on the memoirs of Portland stripper/writer/erstwhile Mercury contributor Viva Las Vegas, Viva's Holiday centers on a fairly typical holiday conflict: Do you tell your conservative dad about your potentially upsetting job? It's an age-old conundrum, actually, and one that should be relatable to anyone who's ever had to answer an uncomfortable query into one's possibly questionable life choices during a time that, while ostensibly about togetherness and festive good humor, can often be fraught and ripe for awkwardness and miscommunication.
Viva's Holiday is also an opera—like, an opera-opera—with music composed by Classical Revolution PDX's Christopher Corbell and played live by a gallant pit orchestra. Sitting in on a recent tech run-through, it was exciting to see classical musicians providing the soundtrack to such an unstuffy show. There are few sounds I love more than an orchestra tuning to its oboe player (there are benefits to having been forced to play a squawky woodwind as a child), but I'm not about to shell out for the symphony. Here, paired with lyrics that are frequently funny and refreshingly easy to understand (AKA not in Italian!), the original compositions of Viva's Holiday are classical tunes that actually sound new.
There were some timing issues during the rehearsal I attended—that's what tech rehearsals are for—with Stage Director Pat Janowski, a core performer at Post5 Theatre, pacing the Star Theater and giving notes to the cast throughout. The show's final iteration, which opens tonight, should be more seamless. It'll also feature an interview and a reading by Viva Las Vegas herself, and a performance from Bergerette, Viva's vocal trio.
Right before I left the rehearsal, a team of stagehands installed a pole for the show's pole dance opening number. "Operas don't start this way," Corbell said. Neither do most insufferable Christmas plays. But perhaps they should.