Evangel Church in Upper Marlboro is setting the tone for the season with "Christmas Celebration 99," a $200,000 production that tells the story of Jesus with live camels, horses, high-tech sound effects and a cast of 200 people.

What starts as a jolly Christmas ball from another century, complete with men in top hats and tuxedos and women in hoop skirts, ends with a wrenching portrayal of the story of Jesus from his birth to his death, burial and resurrection.

The production, with 10 highly detailed scenes, first was staged in 1992 and has grown to a major event that attracts congregants, senior citizens groups and schoolchildren from as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The production begins tomorrow with Noel Night, when senior citizens, schoolchildren and members of social organizations will see the play for free. Church officials said that tickets for the event already have been issued.

This will be the last year the play will be held in the church's $8 million family life center. A 3,000-seat sanctuary is being built under the leadership of the church's pastor, Bishop Don Meares, who is son of the Rev. John L. Meares, Evangel's founder.

Business manager Rosaline Myers said that there would be 14 performances from tomorrow through Dec. 12. For ticket information, call 301-249-9400.

CAPTION: Above, cast members rehearse one of the opening songs at Evangel Church. The production, which was first staged in 1992, has a cast and crew of 200. At left, Gina M. Baker, left, and Charles O. Tolson join their fellow performers in prayer after a rehearsal.