Press Picks

thursday
december 19
Santa Live Since Halloween, Santa has blitzed every mall and museum in town, and yet he still feels as though he has not touched base with every child. To remedy this, tonight Santa reaches out to little couch potatoes via Access Houston. During this two-hour special, kids are invited to call in their Christmas wishes. Adults can amuse themselves by watching as life imitates art imitating life: No doubt some little Arnold fan will request a Turbo Man for his very own. And what will St. Nick say when a nipper requests a Tickle Me Elmo? Will he blame the shortage on the elves? Or bite the bullet and admit to bad planning? 6-8 p.m. Access Houston Community Television (Channel 17 for Warner subscribers; Channel 42 for those with TCI). The Santa Live hotline is 865-4122.

Sing a Christmas Song When the Ensemble ensemble staged the premiere of this Christmas Carol-esque hip-hop musical last year, it earned sell-out crowds. Folks are again turning out, perhaps because Song retains all the fright and fun of the original holiday classic, or perhaps because Art Jones, who appears in a publicity shot surrounded by women, makes for a twistedly dashing Ghost of Christmas Future. Perhaps he's able to turn Scrooge around by pointing out that women don't go for tightwads. Clarence Whitmore reprises his role as the main meanie. 7:30 p.m. Performances continue through December 28 (see Thrills, Theater for additional showtimes). Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch, 520-0055, ensemble It's a Wonderful Life The classic tale is brimming with old charm and tradition and so is Galveston Island, so making the trek down I-45 to see this Christmas classic would be a perfectly lovely way to spend a holiday evening. We know you've seen it -- we've all seen it -- but this is a new musical version brought specially by the Lone Star Performing Arts Association and Galveston College. And it's presented on the Strand, where there's plenty of good shopping. 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sun., December 22. The Strand Street Theatre, 2317 Ships Mechanics Row, (800) 54-SHOWS. $14.

friday
december 20
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg More than a landmark weepie, Jacques Demy's 1964 classic is a musical romance about first love and adult love that honors each. Everyone remembers that the dialogue is sung, that the melodies made international hit parades (one under the title "I Will Wait for You") and that Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo, as the salesgirl in her widowed mother's umbrella shop and the garage mechanic who lives with an aged aunt, are a surpassingly graceful and poignant couple. But the mother (Anne Vernon) is wonderful, too -- she's worldly-wise, not sour. And after Castelnuovo is called up for service in Algeria, the globe-trotting Parisian who courts Deneuve turns out to be a hell of a guy (Marc Michel, reprising the lovelorn hero of Demy's Lola), just as the gal Castelnuovo catches on the rebound (Ellen Farner) becomes his rock of sanity. Although Demy makes the disruption of first love painfully sad, he shows how the passion and soul that lovers summon from each other can redeem them even as ex-lovers. The color -- more brilliant in this release than before, thanks to Demy's foresight in ordering and preserving three color-separated negatives -- has a blend of warmth and gloss that reflects the characters' dreamy tenderness. The movie leaves you aching, satisfied and amorous: blissed-out. 7:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday and December 27 and 28. The Museum of Fine Arts. 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $4; $3, seniors and students.

Winter Celebrations David Letterman has started a new holiday tradition: He gets his guests, beautiful people such as Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, to spew eggnog. Kids would like doing this, almost as much as they enjoy the American tradition of cross-referencing their letters to Santa with the Toys 'R' Us catalog. Other countries have other cool holiday customs, and Lisa Jastram and Kendall Seuser of Oasis for Children will demonstrate, through song and dance, what those are. 2 p.m. Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. $5; free, kids under two.

Candlelight Posada on the Park The organizers of this religious ceremony invite participants to "picture yourself traveling on foot through a desert far from home, and, as the cold night falls, having no inn, or 'posada,' to stay at." Thanks to a shift in the weather, calling back to a time of cold nights isn't as difficult as imagining a time when a couple might have actually had to knock on a door to inquire about a room -- a time before the No Vacancy sign, before American Express, ATMs and e-mail, a time when interacting face-to-face with other human beings was necessary for survival. The Posada, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's nine-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, involves children posing as Mary and Joseph; after the traditional part of the program, there'll be a fiesta complete with pinatas, dances by Grupo Folklorico Tradicional and multilingual Christmas carols. The evening's a highly pleasant way to remind yourself to extend a bit of hospitality toward strangers.7 p.m. St. Theresa's Parish Community, 6622 Haskell on Memorial Park (between the golf course and the pool), 869-3783. Free.

Messiah After witnessing the Posada, perhaps you're feeling especially hospitable toward newcomers. It just so happens we have a newbie in town tonight: Ivor Bolton makes his U.S. debut leading the Houston Symphony in Handel's Messiah. The oratorio has been presented several times already this Christmas, in both the sing-along and non-sing-along formats, but a particularly grand cast of vocalists has been assembled for this late-season entry: soprano Ann Monoyios; mezzo Linda Maguire; tenor Glenn Siebert; and bass-baritone Thomas Barrett. 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $16$45.

saturday
december 21
Merry TubaChristmas For 15 years, hundreds of tuba players have hauled out their oversize horns to play Christmas carols for this lovably goofy tradition. All tuba players (and euphonium players, too) are invited to perform and to dress themselves and their instruments up for a costume contest. (Overachievers could try dressing up like David Letterman, Calvert DeForest or a milk carton and spewing eggnog through their tubas. But if you can do no more than slap a tongue in the opening, at least make it a tongue with personality -- pierce it, fork it a la Gene Simmons or slather on bits of masticated fruitcake.) 9, registration; 10-11:30 a.m., rehearsal; noon, performance. Transco Tower Park, 2800 Post Oak Boulevard, 850-8841. Free to participate; free to watch.

sunday
december 22
One More Victory Lap In a town of sports nice guys, Carl Lewis stands out. He's the embodiment of the Olympic spirit, and he wouldn't like us saying one derogatory word about Keri Strug's little spotlight-grabbing stunt. Carl is a relentless force of positive energy; he's been there, got the T-shirt, partied with the band and has nine coordinating gold medals as proof. Now he's written a book about his final appearance at the games, "the quintessential insider's account" of events both on and off the track -- plus 35 photos taken at the 1996 sportsfest. He'll sign copies of One More Victory Lap at 4 p.m. Borders Books and Music, 570 Meyerland Plaza, 661-2888. Copies of Lewis's book cost $19.95 and make an excellent last-minute holiday purchase.

Shannon brothers' Christmas Show Since the days when they performed regularly at the Comedy Workshop, Charlie and T. Sean Shannon have ascended to greater comic glory. T. Sean writes for The Tonight Show; Charlie has a nationwide radio program called Wedge Weird News and recently finished filming a new pilot for MTV. They don't get to work together much anymore, so this one-of-a-kind performance is sort of a homecoming for them. The fun includes some of T. Sean's clips and his take on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as well as a video featuring toys you wouldn't want to buy and a skit wherein the Little Drummer Boy meets a Las Vegas comic. Though parts of the program sound somewhat sacrilegious, Charlie assures us that the comedy is good-natured. In fact, his parents will be among the onlookers. 8:30 p.m. Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray in the River Oaks Shopping Center, 524-2333. $6.50.

monday
december 23
Schemata: Drawings by Sculptors At last, a chance to travel to a foreign, intriguing and often exotic and remote locale -- inside the mind of an artist. Well, you won't be going there literally, of course. But the current Glassell School exhibit offers sculptors' schemata, the two-dimensional plans for their three-dimensional works. Some of these drawings include notes on the artists' thoughts and emotions during the development of the pieces. The show features nine Texas sculptors, including Joseph Havel and James Surls, and one from New Mexico. Through February 16. Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose, 639-7500. Free.

tuesday
december 24
Deathtrap Mariette Hartley stars in this Broadway touring version of Deathtrap. She was quite spunky and playful in a series of award-winning Polaroid commercials with James Garner; here she plays the hysterical wife of a tapped-out playwright (Elliott Gould) who wants to bonk an up-and-coming wunderkind (Doug Wert) on the head and take his cool, new manuscript. Cross and double-cross figure into this thrilling, chilling Ira Levin work. 8 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for additional showtimes, plus info on a signed performance for the hearing impaired.) Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 629-3700. $34-$40.

Christmas dinner Yeah, you're busy on Christmas Eve. But maybe if you only knew how desperately the Citywide Club of Clubs needs volunteers, then you could find a little time to help set up or serve food. Well, the Club is, and I quote, "in desperate need." The big feast takes place at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenue of the Americas. To volunteer or to make reservations for dinner, call 523-1640. Dinner is free, but reservations are essential.

wednesday
december 25
Merry Christmas Today is Christmas; you already know what to do. Play with your new toys, eat a bunch, then go to the movies. Evita starts today. The Houston Zoo's also open, and it's free on holidays. You might think about taking Junior to visit the warthog he "adopted" for Uncle Bud this Christmas, and you might just get there at the right time to hear some other tyke as he points to said warthog and exclaims, "Look, there's Uncle Jeb's warthog!" If that's your bad luck, seize the opportunity for a dialogue on sharing and the true meaning of Christmas. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Houston Zoological Gardens, Hermann Park, 1513 North MacGregor, 523-5888. Free today and December 26.

Banana Blender Surprise Before another Christmas gets away without your having partaken of the food-spewing tradition, hop on down to the Satellite Lounge. We're not suggesting you spit food at the band, but the Bananas -- Moon Pie and RC Cola loyalists all -- love to entertain, and puking junk food for the audience's pleasure is not beneath them. Even a previous Press critic has admitted to snorting beer through his nose in response to Banana antics. They'll be a hoot. Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-

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