Press Picks

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.

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.

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Betsy Froehlich