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Short List: Week of December 24 - 31

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In its 15th year of putting on First Night Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is working hard to keep Downtown's community New Year's Eve celebration fresh. Some things, of course, won't change: The family-friendly festival of performances, spectacles, exhibits and hands-on stuff will still all take place at dozens of venues between Liberty Avenue and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, from 10th Street to Stanwix. (And most of it's indoors.) Listen to live music -- rock, pop, jazz, classical guitar, gospel, swing, oldies, bagpipe, zydeco -- headlined by soul-funk party vets the Average White Band. Watch bellydance, Japanese sword-dance and modern dance. And check out fire performers, improv comedy, salsa lessons, puppet shows, the Pittsburgh Ballet, ice sculptures, short plays, art exhibits and a Kwanzaa celebration featuring the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble. See the big community parade -- fire engines, marching bands, giant puppets -- head down Penn (8 p.m.). And, yup, there are fireworks at 6 p.m. and midnight. But also note new wrinkles. There's the First Night debut of the August Wilson Center, hosting acts and activities including the local premiere of Miami's nationally touring "Pied Piper of Percussion," Steve Gryb. For two high-energy audience-interactive shows, Gryb brings 300 different instruments, from every size of tambourine to inflatable bongos (for playing "Wipeout"); between shows, find your rhythm at Gryb's "Percussion Petting Zoo." Another new venue is the Cultural Trust's own Arts Education Center (805-07 Liberty), featuring attractions including Latin American music, dance lessons and hands-on art. Elsewhere, enjoy the River City Brass Band's return to the festival, in two shows at the Byham. And over at Future Tenant Gallery, there's a new kids' poetry workshop, hosted by the Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange (with a reading by notable local poets at 8 p.m.). All these, plus dozens of attractions more, are yours for an $8 First Night button. (Kids under 5 are free; some events -- mostly those on big theater stages -- require free vouchers, available at the Theatre Square Box Office, 655 Penn). A complete schedule is online. Bill O'Driscoll 6 p.m.-midnight Thu., Dec. 31. Downtown. 412-456-6566 or www.firstnightpgh.org

 

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Sat. Dec. 26 -- Zombies

Been waiting for a chance to celebrate your undead Yuletide? The first annual Zombie Xmas, at the hard-rock South Side bar known as The Smiling Moose, explicitly offers "dark sanctuary from the typical holiday fare." The night of DJs, costume contests and trivia games -- plus "an extra-special visit from Satan Claus" -- benefits area groups that feed humans and other hungry creatures. The organizer is the Iron City Metal music collective. Bill O'Driscoll 9 p.m. 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. Free (donations earn door-prize chances). 412-431-4668 or ironcitymetal@yahoo.com

 

Sat., Dec. 26 -- Outdoors

On one hand, it's late December, and most folks aren't thinking too fondly of the outdoors; on the other, many of us have been cooped up for a few days with the family, and wouldn't mind taking a hike. Lucky for us, Powdermill Nature Reserve hosts programs year-round, and this weekend has two free opportunities for getting in touch with nature. Today's Winter Nature Hike explores the reserve as it is in the cold months; it's rain-or-snow-or-shine, so hitch up your boots. Sunday's nature program -- held indoors -- is a talk by reserve naturalist Joe Stavish called "Cane Toads in Australia: An Un-Natural History." It deals with a non-native species of toad introduced to cane fields in Australia in the 1930s for pest eradication; as is often the case, the project didn't go according to plan. Andy Mulkerin Nature hike: 1 p.m. Talk: 1 p.m. Sun., Dec. 27. 1847 Rt. 381, Rector. Both events are free. 724-593-6105 or www.powdermill.org

 

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Sat., Dec. 26 -- Sports

Part athletics, part stunt spectacular, part comedy, the Harlem Globetrotters are a veritable circus of basketball. Tonight, they kick off their "Magical Memories" tour in their final performance at Mellon Arena with their legendary blend of skill and showmanship. Inducted into basketball's Hall of Fame in 2002, the Globetrotters have been entertaining audiences for 84 years of dribbling, dunking, juggling and goofy antics. The Pittsburgh date is the first of more than 420 domestic and international exhibitions on the tour. Lucy Leitner 7:30 p.m. Downtown. $17-140. 412-642-1800 or www.mellonarena.com.

 

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Sat., Dec. 26 -- Comedy

Ron Placone has opened for the Upright Citizens Brigade and appeared on CNN. This weekend the Pittsburgh native returns with a mixture of topical and self-deprecating humor on the state of this strange world, in two shows in Turtle Creek. Placone ponders why George Carlin dies while Sarah Palin's family procreates, and compares his looks to those of a Futurama character. Though now residing in Seattle, Placone keeps his comedy Pittsburgh-accessible. When ranting about chaste pop stars, he asserts, "If not getting laid is a ticket to fame, this show should have been at the Mellon Arena." LL 8 p.m. Also 8 p.m. Sun., Dec. 27. Italian-American Citizens Club, 1131 Rodi Road, Turtle Creek. $5. 412-823-9618 or ronplacone.com

 

Sat., Dec. 26 -- Variety

Each month, an eclectic crowd of underground revelers flocks to Remedy for a cornucopia of strange activities. And tonight's Sinferno/Hanging Garden -- a lingering Christmas celebration -- is no different. The third floor is a tattooed disco with black-clad patrons dancing to DJ Reich's industrial set. Downstairs, Dave English performs his XXX_Mas Puppet Show, and local belly dancers seduce the crowd with their tribal moves. Visitors can also enter a Go-Go dance competition, and play DJ Zombo's Extreme Bingo, for prizes. LL 9 p.m. 5121 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $5. 412-781-6771 or remedypgh.com

 

Tue., Dec. 29 -- Comedy

If you're lucky, it's a short work week. If you're luckier, you don't have to work again until next year. In any case, there's a good excuse to take in a rare night of comedy at Club Café, featuring three of Pittsburgh's top comics. Mike Wysocki, a WDVE favorite who's opened for Josh Blue and Norm McDonald, joins Bill Crawford, who's headlined at Pittsburgh's Improv. And joining both of them is Mike Travers. It's the last call for comedy before New Year's Eve, when you're less likely to recall what you were laughing about. BO 7 p.m. 54-56 Bedford Square, South Side. $10. ticketweb.com/clubcafe or mitravers99@hotmail.com

 

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Tue., December 29 -- Rock

It's a long time gone since Punchline arrived on the scene as fresh-faced high schoolers from Belle Vernon ("Bingo," anyone?), but the pop-punk outfit is still at it. After leaving the roster of Fueled by Ramen, the band released 2008's Just Say Yes -- a record with a polished sound that shows how far Punchline has come since the late '90s -- on its own Modern Short Stories imprint. The band's catchy hooks are what's remained throughout the ups and downs and lineup changes. Tonight, Punchline plays Diesel along with guitarist Jon Belan's alter ego, Gene the Werewolf, plus The Composure and The Catastrophe. AM 7 p.m. 1601 E. Carson St., South Side. $12-14. All ages. 412-431-8800

 

PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS
  • Photo by Joan Marcus

Tue., Dec. 29 -- Stage

Recently made famous by a movie adaptation, Dreamgirls returns to its stage roots at Heinz Hall this week, for eight shows via PNC Broadway Across America. This touring incarnation of the hit 1981 musical that became an award-winning 2006 film stars Moya Angela as full-figured lead turned backup singer Effie White, and Chaz Lamar Shepherd as scheming agent Curtis Taylor. A musical tale of a 1960s singing trio, and its exploitation by the recording industry, the period play is based on Motown legends The Supremes. LL 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sun., Jan. 3. Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown. $22-66. 412-392-4900 or pgharts.org

 

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Tue., Dec. 29 -- Zappa

Frank Zappa last toured in 1988, and passed away in 1993. But since its debut, in the early 1990s, Project/Object has brought Zappa's prolific musical genius back to the stage. Over the years, the band has drawn in several sidemen from Zappa's band; the current tour features Ike Willis and guitarist Ray White (who also joined Dweezil Zappa's "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour, in 2007). Local post-rock instrumental wizards Mandrake Project open tonight's show at the Rex Theater. Aaron Jentzen 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.). 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. $18 ($20 day of show). 412-381-6811 or www.rextheater.com

 

Thu., Dec. 31 -- Music

After a long, successful run as both a touring act and hometown favorite, the ever-funky Jazzam is taking it to the bridge one last time tonight. So if you're looking to ring in the New Year with live jazzy jams and grooves -- or just want to see the band once more for auld lang syne, head on down to the Rex Theater. Guests Old E Allstars and DJ Disco Dave round out this appealingly affordable way to spend the last night of 2009 (tickets are just $10, or $12 at the door). AJ 10 p.m. (doors at 9 p.m.). 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-381-6811 or www.rextheater.com

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