There are very few comedians who can make today's heard-it-all-before cynics lose cool-control to the point of audible laughter, but Mitch Hedberg is a rare chance at rolling-in-the-aisles fun. His secret weapon: The charming slacker doesn't try too hard. Through a shaggy mop of hair and in a slightly surfer-inspired cadence, Hedberg mumbles offbeat observations about Pringles, whose initial intention must have been to make tennis balls, and Bigfoot, who photographers have proven is blurry. Hedberg hates wearing turtlenecks because "it's like being strangled by a really weak guy -- all day," and he switched from buying M&Ms to carrying aspirin, because "if you give your friend two aspirin, he doesn't think you're being selfish." Of course. Hedberg headlines at the Laff Stop through July 3. Summer showtimes are Monday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., and Sunday at 7:45 p.m. 1952 West Gray, (713)524-2333. Friday and Saturday shows are $12; all others are $8.
Express Theatre's Children's Hilltop Theatre Festival opens today with The Magic of the Woods, an earth-conscious musical that chronicles a child's search for the power to save the flowers in the woods -- for "flower power," so to speak. The festival continues with a play every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. through July 24. Pobre Pablo's Wondrous Wishes (July 10) is a fable about a poor blacksmith who squanders three wishes and has to face his fate. The Ransom of Red Chief (July 17) tells the O. Henry short story of two con men who kidnap more than they bargained for. And From Africa with Love (July 24) was commissioned by the Houston International Festival and tells three moving stories of South Africa. 11 a.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park. For information and reservations, call (713)759-1314. Free.
The largest Fourth of July fireworks display in town is at the Freedom Festival in Eleanor Tinsley Park along Buffalo Bayou. The dramatic Houston Chronicle "Freedom Moment" (who knew you could sponsor a moment?) will spark a pyrotechnic waterfall off the Freedom Stage and a fireworks spectacular that reaches a height of almost 1,000 feet and spans two football fields in width. The bombs bursting in air will be accompanied by a soundtrack featuring such all-American artists as John Mellencamp, George Strait and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The fireworks start at 10:20 p.m., but the festival actually begins at 4 p.m. with a children's area, food booths and country music by Kevin Eagan, Doug Supernaw and Lee Roy Parnell. No-nos: pets, glass, food or drink, grills, umbrellas and recording devices of any kind. Things you can bring: lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen, hats and insect repellent. Call (713)220-2000, access code 7499, for more information. Admission is $2, but free tickets are available at all local Kroger stores.
It may be a city holiday, but the public swimming pools are open, and the zoo is free. To find the pool nearest you, look in the Blue Pages of the business telephone directory or call (713)845-1009. We recommend the Stude Park pool at the corner of Stude and Forester off Studemont. Perched high on a Heights hill overlooking the bayou, it's one of the few municipal pools in town with a good springboard. Open noon to 6 p.m. Free.
At the Houston Zoological Gardens, don't miss the new koala exhibit or the interactive frog, toad and salamander display, "Mission Impossible: the Mystery of the Vanishing Amphibians." Other new arrivals include a baby wallaby named Origami, a little Nigerian dwarf goat called Flash and a King Vulture chick, who, sadly, doesn't have a name. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 1513 North Macgregor in Hermann Park, (713)284-8300. Free.
Your favorite movie and sports stars are being picked off one by one. Who's murdering these members of "American royalty"? Jealous lovers? Celebrity stalkers? Crazed fans? No, in Jean-Jacques de Mesterton's new book, The Succession, it's a highly organized group of morally motivated assassins targeting all who sensationalize violence, greed, disloyalty and corrupt values. If the plot sounds more like a cinematic experience than a literary one, that's because the political action thriller was optioned for a screenplay before it was ever released as a novel. The Succession's movie production company is based in Houston, and so is its publisher. Now the world traveler de Mesterton is paying us a visit -- to speak about his book/movie and the controversy over violence in the entertainment industry. 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 3003 Holcombe Boulevard, (713)349-0050. Free.
"My goal is to return the musical to its roots -- no pun intended," says Gregory Boyd, of the Alley Theatre's production of Little Shop of Horrors. To this end, Boyd has brought in the original designers of the 1984 off-Broadway hit: set designer Edward Gianfrancesco, costumer Sally Lesser and Martin Robinson, the designer and manipulator of the first Audrey II. "I've always wanted to present Little Shop of Horrors the way it was originally created, as a 1950s sci-fi horror comedy with this great musical score in a comic-book setting," Boyd says. "I'm eager to present it to a generation that may be familiar only with the movie." Here to help the movie generation with the transition to theater is choreographer Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks, whose work has been seen on the MTV Movie Awards, in Drew Barrymore's recent teen flick Never Been Kissed and in both Austin Powers movies. Oddly enough, she seems like a good fit for the play. An insatiable man-eating plant from outer space is most definitely shagadelic, baby! Little Shop opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. and runs Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. through August 1. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. Call (713)228-8421 for tickets. $17-$30.