The annual question when considering an overview of holiday-related productions in American theatre is not, "Who is doing A Christmas Carol?"
You might rather ask, "Who isn't doing it?"
From New York City, where Madison Square Garden stages its annual musical spectacle (this year with Roger Daltrey), to Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston, Portland and elsewhere, there are plenty of variations on the 1843 Dickens short story, complete with Scrooge and his ghosts, the singing of traditional songs, and the classic regional theatre role known as "Turkey Boy." (How many actors on Broadway will admit to having played the boy who fetches the fowl in the butcher's window for Scrooge on Christmas morning?)
There are so many holiday adaptations of A Christmas Carol and other perennials, that Theatre Communications Group, the U.S. resident theatre service organization, excludes them in its annual top 10 list of the most-produced scripts in the country. Who could count that high?
(For the record, TCG reports 36 productions of the yule yarn among its member theatres this year.) But what's the flip side of A Christmas Carol?
Here's a roundup of everything
* The Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris' wickedly funny account of his brief employment as a Macy's elf in the department store's Santa exhibit is dotting the landscape, sure to be a perennial. The one-man monologue (first an NPR radio monologue, then a published essay) features a dry, cigarette-smoking Macy's employee (Crumpet the Elf) telling secrets about the popular practice of meeting Santa. Joe Mantello helped adapt the essay to the stage in 1997. Martin Burke plays the elf at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center (the Whisenhunt Arena Stage) in Austin, TX, through Jan. 3, 1999. Call (512) 476-0541.
* Actor William McKeon not only gets to play the plum role of Scrooge in his Dickens' Christmas Carol, he plays all of London and spirits from the other side, too. His one-man adaptation continues to Dec. 31 at the Shubin Theatre in Philadelphia. A signed performance for the deaf community (interpreted by McKeon's actress-sister, Diane) is Dec. 27. Call (215) 750-9690.
* There's nothing like Hate for the Holidays, the comic revue staged through Dec. 27 by Moving Arts in Los Angeles. The sendup of everything festive includes sketches and monologues about Christmas Eve retail workers, a homeless mission at Thanksgiving, family dinners, and more. Their credo: It isn't a wonderful life. Call (323) 665-8961.
* An on-leave cop returns to duty to solve the apparent slaying of a department Santa Claus (is this the sequel to Santaland Diaries?) in B Street Theatre's Bearing Gifts, through Jan. 3, 1999. Theatre co founder Buck Busfield wrote the world premiere. Call the San Francisco venue at (916) 443-5300.
* Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the classic story of a monstrous Scrooge who loots Whoville on Christmas Eve, has made it to the musical stage, adapted by librettist-lyricist Timothy Mason and composer Mel Marvin at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego (through Jan. 3, 1999). Call (619) 239-2255.
* Christmas, Italian-style is the angle of Ma, a home-for-the holidays play by Roy and Tree Washburne, by Actor's Edge Productions through Jan. 10, 1999 at the Gene Bua Theater in Burbank, CA. The Lombardi family Christmas features "a water-gun fight, a devastating theft, an unusual marriage proposal and Christmas caroling," according to production notes. Call (818) 705-2370.
* A popular Chicago tradition since 1995, the musical, The Christmas Schooner, continues sailing through Jan. 3, 1999 at Bailiwick Repertory. With songs by Julie Shannon and book by John Reeger, the story evokes the 19th-century ritual of ships that crossed Lake Michigan to deliver Christmas trees to the Windy City. Call (773) 883-1090.
*South Coast Repertory Theatre presents a contemporary Latino Christmas play, La Posada Magica, through Dec. 27, as a cultural counterpoint to its annual staging of A Christmas Carol (also to Dec. 27). It concerns 14-year-old Gracie's holiday doldrums and how a posada (a procession) of her neighborhood friends cheers her. It's performed in English, with songs in Spanish. Call (714) 708-5555.
* The Garrick Cabaret Theatre, in the Garrick restaurant of New York City's Mayfair Hotel, continues its first holiday show, We'll Take Manhattan...a Holiday Cabaret, with cabaret stars Phillip Officer and Claiborne Cary, to Jan. 31. Expect "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Let it Snow" and "My Favorite Things." Call (212) 489-8600.
-- By Kenneth Jones