Baby, It's Bright Outside: Fiesta of Light; Ahwatukee-Foothills Festival of Lights; ZooLights; "Wild Winter Nights": The City of Phoenix's free Fiesta continues nightly, through Thursday, January 1, in the area surrounding Symphony Hall Terrace, Second Street and Adams (534-3378). Ahwatukee's white-lights-only bonanza can be viewed from 5:30 to 11 each evening, through January 1. The fest is centered on Chandler Boulevard about three and a half miles west of I-10 (460-6169). The Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway, in Papago Park, is garbed in a Technicolor dreamcoat of lights during its sixth annual ZooLights display. It continues from 6 to 10 nightly, through Sunday, January 11. Special admission is $4.50, free for kids age 2 and under (273-1341, extension 7810). Wildlife World Zoo's "Wild Winter Nights" features thousands of lights placed strategically around the grounds of the west-side menagerie, 165th Avenue and Northern in Litchfield Park, plus a special exhibit of black-footed penguins from South Africa. The "WWN" display continues from 5:30 to 9 each evening, through Sunday, January 4; admission is $5, free for kids 2 and under (935-9453).
"Africa! A Sense of Wonder": The exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 North Central, promises "new ways of looking at the art of Africa" and includes about 80 sub-Saharan objects that date from the 16th to early 20th centuries and range from the sociocultural to the fanciful. Drawn from the extensive collection of Valley resident Richard Faletti and family, "Africa!" was co-curated by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts; it continues through Sunday, February 8, in the Steele Gallery. Various related in-gallery presentations and performances are scheduled. This week: "Something we lost . . . 1230 A.C.E.," a presentation of various tribal dance styles by the Barbea Williams Performing Company, at 2 p.m. Sunday, December 28; and "A Kwanzaa Celebration," featuring storyteller and writer Fatimah Halim, at 2 p.m. Tuesday, December 30. The museum is closed Christmas; regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays). Admission is $6, $4 for students and seniors, $2 for children ages 6 to 18, free for younger kids and members; entry is free to all on Thursdays. 257-1880, 257-1222.
The Nutcracker: Ballet Arizona's annual staging of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker has a different vibe this year, with new sets (by Thomas Munn of the San Francisco Opera), costumes and choreography. The Phoenix Symphony--conducted by its former music director, James Sedares--provides the accompaniment. Final performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 26; and 2 p.m. Saturday, December 27. Tickets range from $9 to $36, available via the ballet or Dillard's (381-1096, 503-5555).
Fred Stonehouse/Steve Gompf: Stonehouse is a Milwaukee-born painter who operates in his own fever-pitched realm of imagination; says Fred of the startlingly original pieces in his exhibit "Thirteen Devils & El Libro de los Suenos": "I break the rules of symbolism internationally. . . . I don't have any qualms about it." Valley-based Gompf is a multimedia junkie who transforms his passion for old junk--and faded visuals--into glorious pseudohistory via sometimes disturbing, nickelodeon-style loops "broadcast" on lovingly rehabilitated, oddly threatening machines named televisors. His installation is titled "Steve Gompf & Eadweard Muybridge: Persistent Visions: Televisors and Early Motion-Picture Technologies." The dual exhibits are closed Christmas and New Year's Day, but are up through Saturday, January 3, at the Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale. Viewing is free; regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays (and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays), noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 990-7342.
Fiesta Bowling: The 27th time around for the football classic is the pretext for the usual slate of fun stuff around the Valley. Examples: Downtown Scottsdale's Fiesta Bowl Art Walk offers a free cultural alternative to non-pigskin-heads. The downtown streets will be closed to motor traffic but open for pedestrians to enjoy artist receptions, exhibits, music, a hot-air-balloon glow and kids' art activities from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, December 27 (350-3939). Sun Devil Stadium, College Avenue and Stadium Drive in Tempe, will host the 20th annual Blue Cross and Blue Shield National Band Championship, in which 10 of the country's best high school marching bands, among them the Valley's own Tempe High School, will lip off at each other, at 12:30 p.m. Monday, December 29. Tickets are $7 and $10, available from the Fiesta Bowl ticket office (350-0911). The MicroAge Fiesta Bowl Parade, presided over by baseball great Ryne Sandberg, gets on the hoof down Central Avenue at 11 a.m. Tuesday, December 30. Tickets for chair seating are $8; riser seats are $12 and $18. They're available from the Fiesta Bowl ticket office or Dillard's (350-0911, 503-5555). On game day, Old Town Tempe will host the Tempe Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Block Party, featuring six stages full of such national acts as the B-52's, Kansas, Rome, and Joe Diffie. Festivities begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, December 31, and continue until midnight, with the "Tostitos Chip Drop." Advance tickets are $10, available at Fry's Food and Drug Stores Valleywide, the Fiesta Bowl ticket office or Dillard's (350-0911, 503-5555). Oh, yeah, and the game itself: Kansas State and Syracuse will face off at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sun Devil Stadium (350-0911).
Circus Flora: The Flying Wallendas--featuring 8-year-old Alex, who walks the high wire, though he's barely out of the high chair--star in this small circus with a big spirit. They share the bill with the likes of aerialist Sacha Pavlata, equilibrists Nurboll and Almos, acrobat/clown Giovanni Zoppe and a variety of animal acts, including Betsy the Vietnamese potbellied pig, Papagallo the piano-playing Leghorn Rooster, and Flora, the young, poacher-orphaned elephant (and anti-ivory activist) from whom the circus takes its name. Opening performances are at noon and 4 p.m. Saturday, December 27; noon and 4 p.m. Sunday, December 28; 2 p.m. Monday, December 29; 2 p.m. Tuesday, December 30; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, December 31, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Additional performances are scheduled Friday, January 2, through Sunday, January 4. Tickets range from $10 to $18, available at the center and Ticketmaster (994-2787, 784-4444).
Social Security: Andrew Bergman, the first-rate comedy screenwriter who collaborated on the script for Blazing Saddles and penned his self-directed wacko classic The Freshman, also authored this comedy about an 80-year-old woman who moves in with her daughter and son-in-law, and the ensuing turbulence. Bob Sorensen directs the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company production. Opening performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 27; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, December 28; and 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 31, in Stage West at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. Performances continue through Sunday, January 11. Regular tickets are $20 to $22; they're $40 for the New Year's Eve show. 252-8497.
Nutcracker on Ice: Haven't had enough nutcracking yet? This ice extravaganza, which stars Randy Gardiner and Tai Babilonia, serves up the Tchaikovsky classic chilled at the Sundome, 19403 R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. Performances are at 3 p.m. Saturday, December 27; and 3 p.m. Sunday, December 28. Tickets are $12, $18 and $24, available at the Sundome and Dillard's (975-1900, 503-5555).
Save Ferris: This nonpunk outfit from Punk Ground Zero--Orange County, California--sports a ska-tinged sound and a strong female presence at center mike: operatically trained Monique Powell. Touring behind the Epic disc It Means Everything, the band is scheduled at 8 p.m. Monday, December 29, at Gibson's, 410 South Mill in Tempe. Kongo Shock and Showbomb share the all-ages bill. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 the day of the show, available at Ticketmaster. 967-1234, 784-4444.
Arizona Stock Show: Now in its 49th year, this event at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, 19th Avenue and McDowell, includes rootin' tootin' good times ranging from the gustatory (a Chili Challenge) to the educational (a Farm Experience). Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 30; and the same Wednesday, December 31. The event continues with the PRCA Rodeo scheduled on Friday, January 2; and Saturday, January 3. Admission is free this week; there's a charge for next week's dates, and for the rodeo. 258-8568.
New Year's Eve Gala Concert: Symphony Hall makes a classy setting for ringing in the new, as the Phoenix Symphony, under the baton of associate conductor Clotilde Otranto, schmaltzes up the place with the music of Johann Strauss and other sentimental faves. There's also a complimentary champagne toast thrown in. The evening kicks off at 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 31 (and wraps up at about 10:30, getting you home in time for Dick Clark). The Hall is at 225 East Adams. Tickets, ranging from $22 to $42, are available from the Phoenix Symphony box office and Dillard's (495-1999, 503-5555).
Andrew "Dice" Clay: The comic whose stage persona is that of a Jersey street lout dishes up his lowbrow stylings in a New Year's Eve show at the Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street, on Wednesday, December 31. Tickets are $26 and $36, and can be had at the Celebrity box office and Dillard's (267-1600, 503-5555).
Five Guys Named Moe: The blues tunes of Louis Jordan are the stars of this Arizona Theatre Company production. They're strung along a musical-comedy plot in which a lovelorn hero is visited, through his radio, by the title quintet, a supernatural team of blues busters whose names are variations on "Moe." Audiences can expect mo'e fun than usual. The run kicks off with a New Year's Eve Gala at 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 31. Tickets for the gala are $50; they're less for the rest of the run, which continues through Sunday, January 25, in Center Stage at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. 252-8497.
"An Evening With Benny Goodman": Mesa Symphony celebrates the New Year with an evening of the clarinet master's works, as well as classical pieces for the same instrument, as a way of remembering Goodman's lesser-known accomplishments as a classical clarinetist. Guest soloist John Denman is featured. Tickets are $10 and $20 for the show, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 31, at Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 North Arizona Avenue. 897-2121, 786-2680.
Craig Shoemaker at the Improv: The American Comedy Awards pick for best standup comedian of 1997--and star of the upcoming film The Lovemaster--deigns to spend his New Year's Eve here in the Valley. The alchemical comedian, who is slated to host next year's VH1 game show My Generation, has transformed a miserable childhood as a hopeless geek into a he-man mint. He used to be slugged by little girls; now he's hit on by beautiful women. He performs Wednesday, December 31, at the Tempe Improv Comedy Theater, 930 East University. His run continues through Saturday, January 3. 921-9877.
The Rusty Zinn Blues Band: He's only in his mid-20s, but Zinn's been one of the top hired guns in the blues field of the '90s, backing the likes of Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel and the late Luther Tucker, Rusty's mentor. The redheaded purist from California and his band return for a New Year's Eve show at 9 p.m. Wednesday, December 31, at the Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School. Admission is $6. 265-4842.
New Year's Eve Extra: For info about other stuff to do on Wednesday, December 31, see the supplement on page 88.