Watching Karamu Theatre's majestic staging of Black Nativity is kind of like sitting inside a Christmas ornament. The singers and dancers are garbed in shimmering gowns and richly colored robes for this 1961 work, which sets the gentle yet powerful lyrical poetry of Karamu alum Langston Hughes to gospel music. The first act is a modern dance retelling of the traditional story of the birth of Christ, while the second act musically chronicles the history of African-American Christianity from the time of slavery and spirituals, with a particularly rousing baptism by the river. For several years, the annual production was moved to Music Hall, its intimacy washed out by over-miked grandeur. But it's back in the Jeliffe Theatre at Karamu now, for a run through January 3. Tonight's performance is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $25; call 216-795-7070, ext. 226 for reservations. At 2355 East 89th Street.
Will you still love her tomorrow? Thirty-eight years of tomorrows have come and gone for Shirley Alston, leader of 1960s girl group the Shirelles, and she's returning to town to test that devotion (and her 57-year-old pipes). Working solo this time, Alston sings in the Jingle Bell Rock show, a mellow meandering down memory lane. Country artist Bill Helms, who sang 1957's "Jingle Bell Rock," won't be on the bill, having died in 1997; however, Bill Pinkney of the original Drifters (he sang lead on their 1954 version of "White Christmas") and soul man Sam Moore of Sam and Dave will be. Performance time is 8 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square. Tickets are $28.75, available by calling 216-241-6000.
All gossamer and porcelain, the classical Nutcracker ballet has little connection to the everyday lives of inner-city kids. So Alison Chase, director of Pilobolus Dance Theatre, one of the country's most innovative modern dance companies, began tossing around the idea of An Urban Nutcracker. The seed germinated some years later, while Chase was working with students at the Cleveland School of the Arts, where she has since become a permanent artist-in-residence with Youth-at-Risk-Dancing. More than six years of rehearsals later, YARD will stage the premiere production of the work, which Chase created with much input from her charges. In this version, young Miesha travels to the fairy-tale lands of Gund Arena (for a basketball game) and the Caribbean (for a big carnival scene), and the Rat King leads a band of drug users and petty criminals in a body-slamming battle against the neighborhood vigilantes. Performances take place today and Saturday, December 19, at 8 p.m. in the Metropolitan Campus Theatre of Cuyahoga Community College, East 30th Street and Woodland Avenue. Tickets are $15 and $25; call 216-795-8039 for reservations.
A sensationalized hybrid of street fighting, Extreme Championship Wrestling makes the World Wrestling Federation's coliseum events look like Miss America pageants. "We've got barbed wire bats . . . We do thumbtacks, broken glass," says local ECW promoter and wrestler James Haas, a.k.a. J.T. Lightning. The talent at any given show can range from over-the-hill WWF stars to fresh-scrubbed ex-cons, and $3 ringside seats (first come, first shove) give new meaning to the term "nosebleed section." What's more, the spectacle is multicultural, featuring Lucha Libra (Mexican wrestling with masks and suicide dives) and Japanese martial arts moves, along with red-blooded-American groin kicks and head-butts. The alcohol-free antics start at 7 p.m., with a toned-down 2 p.m. family matinee for sissies and small fry ($1 for kids twelve and under). "They're really rowdy when there's no beer," Haas says of the crowd. At St. Michael's Gruss Hall, 3115 Scranton Road, 216-671-1253.
Less carnal, but just as carnivorous, is Wild About Wolves in the Wild, a family presentation by Douglas Smith, a biologist leading the National Park Service's effort to restore gray wolves to the Rocky Mountains. Government-sponsored wolf hunts in the early 1900s, held at the behest of Western settlers, thinned out the population, which ultimately hovered near extinction in the area. But since 1995, the wolf population has grown by 120 in Yellowstone Park, to the consternation of some ranchers and farmers in outlying areas, who regard the animals as a threat to their livestock. "Wolves are haunted by romance and mystery and mythology," says Smith, who adds that most people mistakenly regard them as either "nice furry dogs" or insatiable predators that can rip apart any man or beast. He'll talk about the wolves' diet (mainly elk) and habitat at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval, today at 2 p.m. Admission is $7 adults, $5 students and seniors.
Grab your surfboard . . . and your hatchet . . . for a night of seminal '50s and '60s music by local bands, along with a mini horror film festival. The Balboas, a surf outfit from the sunny coast of Akron (see page 46), perform at the benefit for college radio station WCSB, along with rockabilly band Lords of the Highway, local punk rockers Kill the Hippies and Clinton's Sex Kittens, and Spy Five, which has cornered the niche market of spy theme music. For sensitive eardrums, there are back-room screenings of Carrie, Lair of the White Worm, and the female exploitation flicks She Devils on Wheels and Gore Gore Girls. The blood-rimmed tide rolls in at 8 p.m. Admission is $8 if you're under 21, $5 otherwise. At the Phantasy Nite Club, 11802 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-228-6300.
Hardcore punk goes wholesome--sort of--with a series of Sunday afternoon shows geared toward suburban teens. But don't put Mushroomhead progeny Schnauzer, headliner of tonight's show, on a Wheaties box just yet. ("A fuck in every song," goes their motto.) Their signature tune, "Family Vacation," takes place inside a wood-paneled station wagon, with derelict dad screaming at the kids. Also peeling the paint off the walls will be high schoolers Convulsion, Yet We Go On, and the Mad-Ups, along with the post-pubescent Uncle No. It all begins at 2 p.m. at the JCP Complex, 15736 Lorain Avenue, 216-941-0083. Admission is $5. All ages are admitted, and smoking and alcohol are prohibited on the premises.
Anchovies are the dish of choice for the warm-weather penguins at the Akron Zoo, who hail from the coasts of Peru and Chile, where the climate can be as unpredictable as Northeast Ohio's. They'll be shaking their tail feathers in new outdoor digs during the zoo's Holiday Lights Celebration, which includes train and pony rides and a Santa's workshop, plus a half-million Christmas lights and--straight from the wilds of a local warehouse--Frosty the twenty-foot snowman. The celebration takes place nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 through December 27 (the zoo is closed December 24 and 25). Admission is $6; $4 for children ages 2 to 14. The zoo is at 500 Edgewood Avenue; call 330-275-2550.
Luck has been a lady for Detroit neo-swingers the Atomic Fireballs, who recently recorded that Sinatra tune for an Ol' Blue Eyes tribute CD on Reprise Records. Though they're cashing in on the younguns' newfound interest in grandma's music, the eight Fireballs hail from contemporary ska and reggae bands in the Motor City, so expect the hyperactive rhythms to test the traction on those alligator wing-tips. They perform tonight at the Rockabilly Holiday concert with local hepcats King Dapper Combo, Ace and the Ragers, and the Haydevils. Showtime is 7:30 tonight at the Odeon, 1295 Old River Road. Tickets are $12, with $2 off if you bring a nonperishable food item.
The Invisible Man, the stage version of the H.G. Wells novel, makes an additional disappearance today with a 1:30 p.m. holiday matinee tacked on to the original schedule. Illusionist Jim Steinmeyer, who worked with magician David Copperfield on the TV de-materialization of the Statue of Liberty a few years back, is responsible for the hocus-pocus in this production: a pair of possessed pants that run across the stage and a vanishing cat, among other tricks. The U.S. premiere of the play is at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., through January 9. Tickets are $31, available by calling 216-795-7000.