Press Picks

thursday
january 18
Science Quest When many of us were schoolkids, the Houston Museum of Natural Science had the skull of Old Diamond, a rogue elephant, a shrunken head, some minerals in the basement and precious little else. Now, the museum is hip and happening with IMAX, major fossils and, starting today, a TV show. Science Quest, a program prepared for classrooms across Texas and PBS stations throughout the country, premieres this morning. Museum staffer Paul Bernhard has been roped into starring -- he'll play Dr. Howie Do-It, a Bill Nye the Science Guy type. In the first show, set in the Cockrell Butterfly Center, Howie says "a worm is a worm is a worm" (explaining the difference between mere worms and caterpillars) and attempts to suck a burger and fries through a straw (demonstrating how butterflies -- later-stage caterpillars -- enjoy their grub. 10 a.m. KUHT/Channel 8.

Bill Engvall The folksy, fairly clean (as in doesn't say the "f" word) Dallas native who eagle-eyed television viewers may remember as Buck Overton on Delta will do three days here in Houston. Engvall appeals to E let's just say he's not huge on the college circuit; he recently completed a national tour with Reba McEntire and shows up on TNN's Music City Tonight pretty often. Tonight, 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. The Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $10, tonight; $12.50, Friday and Saturday.

friday
january 19
Planned Parenthood luncheon with Joycelyn Elders During her Senate confirmation hearings, Dr. Joycelyn Elders said, "I would like to make every child born in America a wanted child." She also, during her brief tenure as U.S. Surgeon General, suggested that sexually active teenagers and drug addicts be treated not as babes or dangerous idiots, but as human beings who could use some respectful advice. Prevention, she insisted, was the key to ending a myriad of public health issues. We all know how long she lasted as Surgeon General. Reception, 11:30 a.m.; luncheon, noon, the 23rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Westin Galleria Hotel, 5060 West Alabama. For reservations or information, call 831-6516. $45, luncheon; $125, luncheon and reception with Dr. Elders.

La Boheme Giacomo Puccini's opera, describing the romance of Mimi and Rodolpho and wild life in 19th-century Paris, has been popular from day one -- there's no telling how many movies have been based on Henri MYrger's novel, Puccini's opera or a combination of the two. Now, Houston Grand Opera presents a fresh, rich production with several debuts. Italian soprano Cecilia Gasdia (as Mimi), Spanish baritone Manuel Lanza (as Marcello) and film director Herbert Ross (as director) are all making HGO debuts. Ross has something of a song-and-dance background, having directed Wonderful Town and Anyone Can Whistle on Broadway and The Turning Point and the musical numbers for Funny Girl on film. The set and lighting directors, Gerard Howland and Scott Zielinski, respectively, are also making HGO debuts. Opening 7:30 p.m. tonight. See Thrills, Theater, Opening, for other performance dates. Brown Theater, Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 227-ARTS. $20-$150; $20, seniors and students (sold on day of performance only and based on availability).

saturday
january 20
Meet Smokey the Bear To celebrate Texas Arbor Day (not to be confused with Arbor Day proper), the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is passing out loblolly pine seedlings and, they say with a hint of mystery, "other hardwood seedlings of undisclosed variety." Baby trees are free to the public on a first come, first serve basis. Smokey the Bear and Johnny Appleseed will be part of the festivities, and arboretum staffers will give forestry demonstrations. Texas Arbor Day activities, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today; 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Drive, 681-8433. Free.

Lipizzaner Stallions For most of human history, horses were a significant part of life. This means, of course, that much of the art and culture we revere and study was made by and for people who had real knowledge of horses. Students of art and literature should keep this in mind -- and perhaps find out a thing or two about horses. Today, Lipizzaners, a 400-year old-breed, will work to music, performing exercises and movements first described by the ancient Greeks. Spanish Andalusian and Arabian horses will also work in the show. Arabian horses completely changed Europe, just as Spanish horses changed the culture of many Native American peoples. Leave horses out of history, and you might as well discuss the past by asking "What if Eleanor Roosevelt had wings and could fly?" 2 and 7:30 p.m. The Summit, Greenway Plaza. For tickets, call Ticketmaster, 629-3700; for information on group sales (20 or more), call 627-9470. $14.50 -$17.50; $2 discount for kids under 20 and seniors over 60.

One Classic Night of Jazz with Chick Corea The luckiest people in the city will be able to enjoy a concert with Chick and contribute to the Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet. HYS&B was created in 1948 to help young musicians and dancers develop their skills; Chick Corea is a world renowned jazz pianist and composer. 7:30 p.m. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Convention Center Boulevard. For more information, call 621-2411. $25-$100.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company Given that he's 76, one might imagine that Merce Cunningham would be happy to retire to a beach somewhere and revel in all the accolades that a half-century as a dance legend have brought him. But the very thought of Cunningham's retiring makes David Vaughan, archivist of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, laugh. "Somebody else, maybe," he says. "But Merce? He has to make dances. For him, that's what being alive is about." Indeed, the '90s have been an unusually prolific creative time for Cunningham, who, with the death of George Balanchine in the early '80s, survives as the last of America's great choreographers of the mid-century. His collaborations with John Cage set the standard for modern dance, and his notion of dancers moving through, rather than with, their accompanying music shook up more than a few audiences. But as with Picasso in painting or Stravinsky in music, Cunningham's innovations have become familiar through all the people he's influenced. That may be why he's kept on choreographing -- to keep ahead of his followers. The three pieces his company will be dancing tonight were all created in the last five years: Beach Birds (1991), Crwdspcr (1993) and Ground Level Overlay (1995). Unfortunately, Cunningham, who still comes on-stage occasionally to dance himself, will be staying in the wings this time around. But for those who want to see a legend up-close, Cunningham has agreed to open up his class and rehearsal to the general public. This Study Day is free, and runs today from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; those interested in participating should enter the Wortham Center through the front doors to meet archivist David Vaughan in the lobby. There will be a free lobby talk by Vaughan at 7:30 p.m. Performance 8 p.m. Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 227-ARTS. $22-$32.

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