Elf Esteem

Before writer David Sedaris became America's favorite chain-smoking, gay ex-patriot raconteur, he worked one memorable holiday season as "Crumpet the elf" at Macy's on 34th Street in Manhattan. It was a scary-weird job, as Sedaris revealed in a wicked radio essay he performed a decade ago on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Letting America in on the dark side of toy land made Sedaris a star and vaulted him into the showbiz career he'd longed for as a child in North Carolina. The elf saga was included in his first best-selling collection of essays, Barrel Fever, and a few years ago it was adapted into a one-man stage piece, The Santaland Diaries, by Broadway director Joe Mantello. Now winding up extra performances at the Addison Theatre Center's Stone Cottage, Santaland makes a tart and tasty antidote to the syrupy end-of-year overdoses of Dickensiana.

Crumpet is portrayed here for the second year by Nye Cooper, a Sedaris sound-alike with Grinchy eyebrows. The elf's tale unfolds in a monologue that zips by in just over an hour. Expressive and wry, Cooper takes his time with the telling and keeps the tone of his performance in a minor key.

In New York just three weeks and so broke he's "20 dollars away from walking dogs," the Sedaris character starts his journey to the North Pole by answering a want ad. To qualify for elfdom, he must submit to a lengthy psychological exam and drug screen. "My urine had roaches and stems floating in it," he confesses.

Hired by the store and issued an elfin identity, along with green tights and pointy red boots, Crumpet attends a rah-rah training session populated by members of management who are "former elves who've worked their way up the candy cane ladder." Shaping his Crumpet persona, he decides he will be "a low-key sort of an elf," the kind who abhors "grinding enthusiasm."

Pretty soon grumpy Crumpet has sussed out the personalities of the staff Santas and learned to profile the pushy parents from Jersey. He sees mothers get into fistfights in the long lines. Some go postal when they get the wrong color Santa. "We want a white Santa!" demands one mom. "White like us!"

Surrounded by mechanical penguins and squalling toddlers, Crumpet ticks off the days till he can shuck his striped smock and pursue his real dream: starring alongside Victoria Buchanan on One Life to Live. At Macy's he does his best to avoid being assigned to "vomit corner," where the code word "vamoose!" summons a crew to clear the upchucks.

"Has anyone else ever realized that 'Santa' is an anagram for 'Satan'?" muses Crumpet, sucking on a cig in the break room.

Then he gets really nasty. Crumpet causes small stampedes by trumpeting fake celebrity sightings. He learns just enough sign language to warn hearing-impaired kids that Old Saint Nick is riddled with tumors. Anything to pass the time. (A little bit of raw language makes this show adult fare, by the way.)

For those who prefer to gaze with a gimlet eye at the gifts of the Magi, The Santaland Diaries is a gift from a wise guy, David Sedaris, whose elfin memoirs are gold, frank, intense with mirth.

WaterTower Theatre ends the year on a high note--a lot of them--with Rockin' Christmas Party, Dave Steakley's bouncy, joyous musical revue with a kitschy disco flavor. Singers Jenny Thurman, Natalie Wilson King, Patrick Amos, Denise Lee, Amy Stevenson and Donald Fowler blow the roof off the joint in 47 frothy, fast-paced numbers, including some holiday classics like Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song" and Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

The seasonal stuff is interspersed with just-for-fun pop tunes such as Leiber and Stoller's "I'm a Woman" (sung in grand style by Stevenson, who wears a bouffant wig that makes her look like Divine in Hairspray). From more recent decades are Madonna's "Holiday" and the B-52s' "Love Shack."

Bay-yay-bee, this is one fun shindig. The cast is attractive and their singing is great. Steakley's choreography is witty and inventive. Scott Kirkham's set places a gorgeous tutti-frutti collection of geometric shapes behind a 20-foot tree that looks like a Lava Lamp. Costumer Michael A. Robinson, influenced perhaps by episodes of Hullabaloo, dresses the gang in exaggerated Mod fashions and feathery disco get-ups. Director James Paul Lemons and musical director Mark A. Mullino keep it all poppin' and never let it get corny, even during "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World."

At the end of the first act, patrons who aren't already dancing in the aisles are invited to compete in a limbo contest. That part of the show is almost redundant because everyone onstage is already bending over backward to entertain.

Not bewitched but bothered and bewildered was I after seeing Beguiled Again, the dreary song-and-dance show running at Theatre Three. Among the 50 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart songs in the nostalgic revue of Broadway melodies are some real beauts, including "My Funny Valentine," "Isn't It Romantic," "My Romance," "Blue Moon" and "Falling in Love with Love."

Given such lovely music, it's puzzling to hear the cast sing most of it rather badly, and as for the dancing, well, they shouldn't have bothered.

In the cast of nine, there's only one standout, Sally Soldo, a veteran chanteuse who can belt a tune like Barbara Cook. She also tap-dances with giddy precision. Beguiled Again might have been a nicer evening had Soldo done it all as a one-woman cabaret.

As it is, however, director Terry Dobson, who's also the musical conductor, has delivered a production that looks and sounds awkward and slapdash. Many in the cast hit sour notes on their solos and then just stand around bored or confused when they're not center stage. None of the men in the ensemble knows what to do with his hands when he sings.

And what's the deal with Theatre Three's costume department? I've noted before its tendency to put actors and actresses, particularly those carrying a few extra pounds, in unflattering outfits. For this show designers Patty Greer and Patty Korbelic Williams have dressed the men in ill-fitting tuxedos and encased the women in plug-ugly polyester evening gowns and sparkly muumuus that look like leftovers from the Milton Berle estate sale. No matter how tight the costume budget, there's no excuse for making anyone wear clothing that's too tight or just too awful for words. For a number meant to depict Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, actress Connie Coit is sent onstage in a dress and wig that make her an exact double for old Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served? Poor thing.

There is no storyline and no character development in Beguiled Again. The songs are strung together in suggestions of settings, such as an old '30s radio show or the stage of a Manhattan supper club. There are medleys, solos and group numbers. (Theatre Three's program didn't include a song list or any hint of who sings what.)

All this takes place on scenic designer Harland Wright's minimal but tasteful set. Above the four-piece combo seated in a corner of Theatre Three's square acting space hangs a perfectly lovely art deco sign for the "Rainbow Room." Nice touch. Just don't expect to find any gold underneath it.