ANYONE WORRIED about the soft-hearted shmuck who managed to get a trifle choked up at A Christmas Carol, of all things, can rest easy: The Grinch is back. My main response to the return of The Holiday Survival Game Show -- despite its all-around playfulness and a good-natured performance -- was an extremely sour reception to the notion that anything resembling this production should take two and a half hours of my time.

The skits, all seasonal or Y2K riffs, virtually define hit-or-miss comedy. If a man in dyke drag strikes you as daring, you're in luck. I don't want to begrudge anyone his fun but... Dan Quayle jokes? Punchlines ending in "Uranus"? Originality is not flowing freely over at the Broadway Performance Hall.

The evening is surprisingly tame, with a smirkingly liberal comic tone aimed safely down the middle of the road; it's cabaret dinner theater with dreams of grandeur. The highlight, however, is priceless -- a Broadway meets Vegas "Disco Nativity" number written by Scott Warrender that has Peggy Platt as the Virgin Mary singing, "He Likes Me," then goes on to savagely parody Andrew Lloyd Webber with introspective solos from the manger animals. Oh, and Monica Appleby as Selena Dion, a pop singer who spent her youth "as a young muchacha growing up in the Mexican quarter of Montreal," gets a few points, too. But Platt, Appleby, and the rest of the cast -- Jeff Resta, Laura Hutchins, and Pete McBryan -- tank at least as often as they succeed. The audience-participation game show that fills the second act is amiable, but should have been the first casualty of director Jennifer Jasper's underused scissors.

Bah, humbug.

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