'Tis the Season: Drinking to 'Ashes' on Home Turf

"Would you be quiet back there? The ambassador is speaking!" yelled Frank McCourt, sounding more like the schoolteacher he once was and less like the best-selling author of "Angela's Ashes." The noisy kids in the back were Washington and Hollywood VIPs gathered on Irish soil for the premiere of "Angela's Ashes" Monday night.

Irish Ambassador Sean O'Huiginn honored McCourt and the movie's cast at his residence, drawing heavy hitters such as Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone (above left, with O'Huiginn and McCourt), Paramount Chairman Sherry Lansing (just voted the most powerful woman in Hollywood) and McCourt fans including Sen. Pat Leahy, Rep. John Dingell, Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti and Education Secretary Richard Riley.

The film, which opens in Washington next month, is a harsh but faithful re-creation of McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his childhood in Ireland. "I didn't think it could be improved on," said McCourt. "I'm more than pleased." He should be--the cast includes Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, left, who play McCourt's mother and brother in the movie.

Choral Arts, Partying to theTune of $300,000

To sing or not to sing? That was the question for the guests at Tuesday's 19th annual Choral Arts Society concert and ball, where revelers were encouraged to dine, dance and sing along to holiday classics with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. "I can't carry a tune, but it makes people join together, and it's a special time of year," said arts patron John Mason.

The gala is one of the most sought-after holiday invitations in town, which is why benefit chair Denise Alexander had to move the after-concert black-tie party from the Mayflower Hotel to the Ronald Reagan Building, a space big enough for 900 guests (who raised a record $300,000 for the Choral Arts Society). Beefy beefeaters in full regalia and a silent auction that included trips to the United Kingdom set a British theme. "This is a very jolly evening," said British Ambassador Christopher Meyer. "We English--when we're having a really good time--say 'jolly.' "

When Americans are having a really good time, they say . . . well, there was a lot of talk about money. But that was only natural, because the guest list included some of the most persuasive fund-raisers in town--Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt, Joanne Mason,

Grace Bender, Nini Ferguson, Kay Kendall, Beth Dozoretz, Lorraine Wallace and Nancy Bagley--as well as a sampling of newly minted high-tech multimillionaires--Jim Kimsey, Michael Saylor, Jonathan Ledecky and Raul Fernandez.

To keep all those Santas in a generous mood, a curvy, red-velvet-clad "Mrs. Claus"--the lead singer for Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra--invited male guests to join her onstage to blow bubbles and croon along. She's no Graves, so let's just say it was naughty and nice.

A Sugar Plum Assignment

Visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy turned into the real thing at the Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker Tea Party" for 370 children yesterday at the Willard Hotel. After the matinee, the cast, in full costume, signed autographs for tiny fans, including Elizabeth Adamson and Jennifer Carl, above. "Each one wants to grow up to be the ballerina or principal male dancer," said Artistic Director Septime Webre. There were no actual sugarplums to be found--alas--but there were scones, eclairs, chocolate-covered strawberries and peanut-butter-and-jelly tea sandwiches.

CAPTION: Denyce Graves, inset, lent her voice to the ball, which drew, above (from left), Frank Guzzetta, Chou Chou Scantlin and Axel Commichau. Right, Denise Alexander and Jack Miller.