A nonprofit group and local merchants are sponsoring a New Year's Eve celebration that organizers say will transform that state capital into a showcase of local entertainment.

The Dec. 31 event, "First Night Annapolis," is being billed as a New Year's Eve celebration of the lively arts that, unlike similar celebrations in major cities such as New York, is an inexpensive, family oriented alternative to "boozing and cruising" New Year's Eve parties.

"People are looking for alternatives to celebrate because of the economy or they're hesitant to be out on the roads," said Mary Lynn Bobbitt, the event's coordinator. "And I for one don't want to sit in a hotel, drinking champagne with a silly hat on my head."

The event will feature a variety of local artists, including strolling magicians, actors, a capella chamber singers, storytellers, gospel groups, martial arts experts and Cajun zydeco musicians.

The Next Ice Age, a Baltimore group, will present figure skaters in authentic Victorian costume with dances set to a wide variety of music, including compositions by Tchaikovsky and the pop group Eurythmics, in the U.S. Naval Academy's Dahlgren Hall.

The drama group Well-Met Productions will premiere a one-act play, "The Party Crashers," in which a southern senator gives a party and is visited by Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Queen Liliuokalani and Oscar Wilde.

An $8 button (no charge for children 6 and younger) covers admission to all of the performances, which will be held at a variety of sites in the city's downtown area, including the State House and Court House, the City Dock and churches and museums in the historic district. A spokesman at the Tourism Council of Annapolis said the event, expected to draw thousands of area residents, will conclude with a midnight fireworks display accompanied by the playing of bagpipes and ringing of city bells.

First Night Annapolis is modeled after a celebration that originated in Boston, according to the event's executive directors, Elizabeth Welch and Lana Nelson, both of Annapolis.

"In Boston, professionals from the arts and business communities came together annually for an evening of fun and entertainment by showcasing a multitude of talents to the entire community," said Welch, who is a native Bostonian. "It was entertaining and educational."

Welch and Nelson formed First Night Annapolis Inc., a nonprofit organization, to support the arts and expose the community to new forms of art they might not encounter otherwise.

The event is being underwritten by local businesses, but organizers declined to disclose how much it will cost. Welch said the event is the result of a major community effort.

One hundred fifty volunteers -- including families, high school students and retirees -- have written news releases and grants, drafted contracts, recruited artists and performers and helped with logistics and fund-raising, she said.

Also featured will be African folklore, 18th century music, bluegrass, Irish jigs and dramatic readings.

First Night Annapolis is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. New Year's Eve with a special children's program featuring master mime Mark Jaster, plus music and clowning.

Other performances will begin at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on performances, call 266-1197.