A Dickens of a Christmas

November 17: It must be Christmastime -- I'm averaging three calls a day from publicists trying to persuade me to review their upcoming holiday shows. The woman from the Rockettes' Radio City Christmas Spectacular called twice today. She didn't laugh when I asked what's Christmassy about a bunch of girls in fishnets who can kick over their head. Note to self: See fewer holiday shows this season.

November 22: The Radio City flack called again. Told her to call me back in February. I crack myself up.

December 5: What's with all the Dickens this season? God bless us, everyone -- there are five productions of A Christmas Carol this year. I'll see the Actors Theatre version at the Herberger, because it's become something of a tradition, and because I keep hoping that Rene Morgan Brooks' wig will fall off while she's singing, like it did that one year. Meantime, I'm making Theatre Eclectic's A Dickens of a Feast my holiday pick hit so far. I had low expectations; ads for the show promised "an interactive dinner format" (which usually means actors hassling you while you try to choke down banquet chicken and cold cobbler) and mentioned that the cast included members of a "youth outreach program" (which usually means delinquent teens who've been forced to appear on the stage by their parole officers). But the kids in this case were just wanna-be thespians, the food wasn't half bad, and the company -- a new troupe recently relocated from Chicago -- has made something interesting of a thin script based on the "Ghost of Christmas Past" section of Dickens' novel.

Tonight there's Mr. Scrooge, a co-production of Scottsdale Spine Care and the Arizona Opera League, which says "chiropractors singing arias" to me. Note to self: Rent Christmas in Connecticut instead.December 6: Christmas in Connecticut sucked -- but not as bad as Hale Centre Theatre's A Christmas Carol, which I drove for hours to see. What was I thinking, going to theater in Gilbert? I kept hoping my spleen would burst; being rushed to the ER and strapped to life support would have been more fun than sitting through this. No such luck. Ho ho hokum!

In other news, the Rockettes publicist has stopped calling and is now sending e-mails and media kits. Note to self: Sharpen ax.December 7: Took my 4-year-old niece, Caitlyn, to see The Velveteen Rabbit today. She kept whining that she wanted to see the Rockettes instead, but I promised her a new GameBoy if she'd shut up. The truth is I wanted to watch Katie McFadzen, my fave local actress, perform. I should have read the ads for Rabbit more closely -- Katie plays the title role, which means she's offstage throughout, with her hand shoved up the ass of a bunny puppet the whole time. Caitlyn's cell phone went off halfway through. Note to self: Ditch the "good uncle" routine.

December 11: You know it's December when you're eating cheesecake at 10 p.m. in the Herberger's rehearsal hall, which is where iTheatre Collaborative is staging a late-night cabaret act called Christmas Mem'ries. I had my doubts -- "Christmas cabaret" usually means bejeweled Danskins and a Santa medley -- but I was pleasantly surprised. The arrangements were attractive, the selections weren't too treacly, and the martinis were dry as toast.

December 12: I like Black Theatre Troupe's Black Nativity more every year. This year I almost got up the courage to ask director David Hemphill where one goes to buy a black baby Jesus doll. Maybe they just used a Chatty Cathy and a can of spray paint. If I sell my four-color Rockettes Radio City Christmas Spectacular media kits (I have seven of them now) on eBay, I might even be able to afford an African-American Infant of Prague.

December 14: I must be desperate for Christmas cheer -- tonight I actually attended something called Holidazzle, a Yuletide review that takes place in a dinner theater -- Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, to be exact. What was I thinking? Certainly not that I'd have to sit through an audience-participation version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" or watch a grown woman dance with a matchstick. Act Two is devoted to an ersatz Radio City holiday concert -- looks like I'm going to see the Rockettes whether I want to or not. Note to self: Convert to Judaism -- and stick to the Nutcracker next year.

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