Living in Phoenix, we've learned we need to create our own holiday traditions. No sledding, no skating, not much bundling up by the fire (damn those no-burn days). That's why we're happy to have such a fantastic local Nutcracker to look forward to as the holidays approach. Ib Andersen, creative director of Ballet Arizona, has a wonderful interpretation, full of Tchaikovsky's music as well as all the Nutcracker moments you remember and some you're glad to add to the repertoire. Our toddler was dancing in the aisles not popular with the staff at Symphony Hall, but she did get a chuckle from the audience and we're sure we'll be first in line when she's old enough to audition for the show.
Who can blame you for hating karaoke? No one with any sense wants to hear people who can't sing attempt to wade through "Mack the Knife" or hit the high notes in "Lady Marmalade." Karaoke is the worst of those '90s fads that refuses to die, especially in Phoenix. But this most annoying of unhip holdovers is having a happy rebirth in a quiet corner of East Osborn Road. Every Friday night at Linda's, where the daily specials (all of them tasty) are handwritten on colorful recipe cards and attached to the menu with a paper clip, Joanne the Karaoke Singer mesmerizes the early dinner crowd with an uncommon talent and a towering hairdo. Seated next to the cash register, flanked by a wee karaoke machine that spits out prerecorded pop tunes from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, Joanne serenades diners in a throaty whisper that's barely audible over clinking flatware and customer chatter. From beneath a foot-high blonde bouffant, this willowy miss of indeterminate age talk-sings her way through a cavalcade of quiet hits, occasionally arching an eyebrow or shrugging a shoulder as if to say, "Here I am, although I'm not sure why." We're not sure, either but we're always glad when she is.
Nutcrackered out? Or looking for something to do the rest of the holiday season, other than stand in line to see Santa? We hear you. Which is why we're here to recommend The Snow Queen. An original production by France Smith Cohen, director of Center Dance Ensemble (the resident modern company at the Herberger), the retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic has changed over the years with better sets and costumes but remains the same beautiful story, told through music and dance. It's a nice holiday tale with not a touch of Christmas, featuring (like Nutcracker) a large group of local children, many trained at Dance Theater West, a local ballet school.
Samurai Comics West
Geeky teenage boys aren't exactly the most hard-hitting hombres walking the face of the Earth. Usually, the toughest they'll get is standing up to mom and dad about violating the sanctity of their fortress of solitude (read: the basement). So imagine our surprise at overhearing said dorky dweebs talking serious smack during one of the many gaming nights held at both Samurai Comics stores throughout the week. While playing collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or role-playing games like Mechwarrior for prize giveaways and comics swag, these aggressive adolescents spew out such taunts as, "I'm gonna smoke you like a fat chronic blunt," or "You wanna bet your PS2? That shit's gonna be mine, beeyotch." It's the kind of trash talking normally associated with hip-hoppers engaged in an East Coast-West Coast feud, and not pasty-faced white boys who probably needed to call their moms for a ride home.
The concept-meisters behind Sugar Daddy's and Dos Gringos must've been channeling the spirit of Al Capone when they conjured up this classy-yet-covert club, secreted away in a tiny Tempe strip mall. A simple antique lamppost with glowing red lights and a bouncer's station outside a nondescript utility door comprise the entrance, where patrons provide either a password or skeleton key obtained from the joint's Web site in order to gain admission. After wandering down a dank corridor equipped with security cameras and monitors, they're led into a swanky, red-drenched lounge and danceteria, where dope DJs like J. Nasty and M2 spin hip-hop tracks. While being completely legal, the clandestine atmosphere adds a sense of lawlessness for the crowd of college kids, fashion plates, and buxom beauties who flock here to sip Cristal and other high-end libations and dance the night away. Ol' Scarface would be proud.
By the end of BOP, we'll have planted repeated mentions of our wonderful botanical garden, but we must take a moment to celebrate our all-time favorite Valley tradition, the luminarias. Each season, we're the first to get our tickets, the first to pull up to the garden and start the holidays with a leisurely stroll through the garden grounds, lighted with hundreds of luminarias. The experience is complemented by live music a variety, some holiday, some not encountered as you walk the garden paths. The grounds are lighted just enough, the sky is starry and (if you're lucky) chilly, and the feel of Christmas in the air is never so sweet as at this event, held several nights throughout the season.
Giligin's Bar
Benjamin Leatherman
If you're tired of simply watching episodes of the retch-inducing reality show Fear Factor, see if you've got the gastronomic gumption to consume cow brains or cockroaches at this Scottsdale bar's extreme weekly event every Wednesday at 10 p.m. Courageous contestants spin a large wheel for points and attempt to solve frequently lurid word puzzles like "Finger My Furburger Until I Pee." If the roulette-style wheel lands on a few spaces with "Fear Factor" written on them, players can get even more points by completing disgusting and dastardly dares like eating dog food or shots of fish oil (for the men) or flashing the crowd (for the ladies). Those who survive with the highest score at the end can win a keg of beer or other alcoholic prizes. It's both filthy and funny, as the game's co-hosted by Giligin's owner Capt. Mike and his slight sidekick, the 4-foot-3, 180-pound Chuey the Rock 'n' Roll Midget. The punchy pair spews out vulgar jokes and insults to the audience all night long, leaving those in attendance with both bellyaches and belly laughs.
We almost lost this venerable company last year, in good part because people don't go to the theater often enough to support even the best playhouses. Which is senseless when you consider how truly impressive Actors Theatre's just-passed season was. It kicked off with a remount of the previous season's Nickel and Dimed, a comic adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's book about the working class that featured a delightful performance by Cathy Dresbach. Next up was Blue/Orange, a thoughtful and well-acted meditation on mental health. A stunning late-January production of Kiss of the Spider Woman featured what might well have been Richard Trujillo's best performance ever. As if this weren't enough, the company closed its already impressive season with an amazing production of Edward Albee's shocking The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? that had audiences buzzing for weeks after. We're glad that wiser heads (and deeper pockets) have prevailed, and that Actors Theatre remains with us.
We're still remembering fondly this production of Paul Rudnick's remarkably funny Valhalla, brought to us last winter by Damon Dering's Nearly Naked Theatre Company. Rudnick's naughty comedy was elevated by wonderful performances from Dion Johnson as a degenerate yokel with a heart of gold; Tim Shawver as the mad King Ludwig II; and Joseph Kremer as a hick whose exasperation at and confusion over his sexuality was appealing and good-natured, where it might have been churlish and annoying. Dering directed, creating a seamless interplay between the play's two distinct eras, and scenic designer T.J. Weltzien brought us both Bavaria and Texas in a mad hodgepodge of a set that was all newel posts and glimmering curtains. Both cast and crew gave their all, and we're still basking in the memory of a wild and wildly entertaining evening of theater.
Although the darkened domain of the gay leather bar Padlock is under weekly siege by big, brawny bears, put away your guns and ammo. See, the burly beasts we're referencing aren't anything like Smokey or Gentle Ben, but, rather, are part of the particular subset of the gay community known as "bears." These bearded, bulky, and hairy males who're proud of their hirsute appearance partake in drink specials while mixing and mingling here on the second Friday of every month during "Bear's Night Out," many clad in leather and denim with their fuzzy chests on display for the world to see. Hey, why not flaunt it if you've got it?

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