You'd Better Not Pout

Pick your Christmas present: High-kicking revue or wickedly funny memoir

The delicious set for this simple yet effective production might have been inspired by the department store Santaland in the now-beloved and equally iconoclastic movie A Christmas Story. The stage is covered with artificial snow and framed by two white Christmas trees adorned with red lights. The centerpiece is a marvelous rendition of a maniacal Santa; Big Brother himself never looked more menacing. Into this mad, mad world arrives our unemployed-but-not-so-innocent hero, who in time morphs into Crumpet, the most hapless of Santa's many helpers. As Crumpet works his way up the candy-cane ladder, he applies the most troll-like interpretations to his scathing chronicles.

Originally Terry Meddows was set to appear in this one-person production. That ideal merger of material and manner promised to be one of the joys of the season. When Meddows had to withdraw, primarily owing to vocal problems that arose during the recent revival of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (a show whose performance schedule conflicted with Santaland anyway), ECHO made the mistake of announcing that Meddows had withdrawn "for personal reasons," a nebulous phrase that -- in true Sedaris style -- allows one to imagine the worst. But all is well, or soon should be, and Meddows will even be running the box office for the final weekend.

So now Crumpet is enacted with plaintive charm by ECHO artistic director Eric Little, who acquits himself well. He lacks the knowing twinkle in the eye that allows Meddows to combine warmth with cynicism; instead we get a beleaguered weariness that turns Little into a kind of Littlechap. But the show is still all kinds of funny, thanks in no small measure to the fact that in his essay Sedaris was incapable of writing a dull sentence.

Enjoy a Rockette-fueled Christmas extravaganza.
Enjoy a Rockette-fueled Christmas extravaganza.

Details

Radio City Christmas Spectacular-Performed through December 31 at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Call 314-534-1111.

The Santaland Diaries-By David Sedaris. Performed by ECHO Theatre Company through December 19 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 North Ninth Street. Call 314-995-2123.

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Curiously, the adaptation by Joe Mantello, currently one of Broadway's busiest directors (Wicked, Assassins), falls into the same trap as the original narrative. After having spent a full hour establishing himself as an incorrigible skeptic, Crumpet tries to make amends with some from-left-field material that is suspiciously sentimental. Then he tries to sip from both sides of the spoon by serving up a final dose of arsenic that doesn't pay off. Which is disappointing, because up until the bitter end, everything else does.

Your best bet is to overlook the final minutes and instead revel in all that goes before. If you're allergic to shopping malls, excessive commercialism or even camels, The Santaland Diariesis just the antidote to restore a smile to your overburdened holidays.

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