Phantom The sewer-dwelling brute is out of fashion; the Phantom of this hit musical is from the Beauty and the Beast school of disfigurement. He's a sensitive artist and scholar with the voice of a world-class tenor (thanks to Richard White's portrayal) who's devoted to the betterment of a beautiful soprano. Phantom debuted at the Music Hall in 1991 and has since spawned 175 productions worldwide, grossing more than $100 million; the gothic tale makes its homecoming as TUTS's most successful musical, and with much of the original cast in tow. 8 p.m. Performances continue through January 19 (see Thrills, Theater for additional showtimes). Music Hall, 810 Bagby. For tickets, call Advantix at (800) 766-6048. $18-$48.
PhoneWorks and WebWorks DiverseWorks kicks off the New Year by offering a couple of new ways to experience new art. The first, PhoneWorks, lets your fingers do the walking: Call 228-2882 today and hear Joel Brower recite five of his original poems. This inaugural work is current -- the ideas for a couple of the poems were co-opted from newspaper headlines -- and optimistic in a "we-fucked-up-but-you-can-learn-from-us" kind of way. Don't be put off by Brower's warning, "I hope this isn't a toll call you're making"; the entire experience can be had in less than ten minutes. The text-based art and aural performances of PhoneWorks will rotate biweekly; dial up Brower's work through January 15. The second unveiling is of DiverseWorks's e-zine WebWorks; visit www.diverseworks.org for a multimedia exhibition pulled together from the art space's late November Digital Storytelling Workshop. For information on reaching or contributing to PhoneWorks or WebWorks, call 223-8346. Free.
Hairdresser Becomes Famous Artist When Chris Olivier was a stylist, he was known to some as "the one next to the window." Now he wants to be known simply as Olivier, an artist (albeit an artist with good hair); only time will tell whether the newly shortened moniker takes or he becomes known as "the one whose art is next to the pasta salad." Either way, he's taken the plunge and is putting his paintings up for a monthlong public display at Butera's delicatessen. Opening reception, 5:30-8:30 p.m. tonight. Through January 31. Butera's, 4621 Montrose, 523-0722. For more information, call 520-0157. Free.
"Big Daddy" Ralph May Big Daddy commands attention. He started developing his fairly high energy shtick on the Comedy Showcase stage six years ago, when he was a mere lad of 19, and just recently he cleared a field of 2,000 comedians to earn a spot on the People's Choice Comedy Festival of Toronto bill alongside Robin Williams. The Showcase folks describe May as "larger than life"; he'll have to be to hold his own on a stage with the frenzied Williams. Before he heads to the chilly north, he's playing for a hometown audience that's long since warmed to him. 8:30 p.m. tonight and Sunday; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Comedy Showcase, 12547 Gulf Freeway (at Fuqua), (281) 481-1188. $6-$9.
Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show A vast and varied selection is one reason why, for 41 years, people have been coming to this exposition. More than 500 exhibits spread across 19 acres are there for the taking or, more realistically, for the gawking. But it's the little things that make this show special. For example, the Fish-O-Rama, where for 37 years now urban dwellers have come to teach their offspring the joys of planting their feet firmly on the Astrohall concrete, casting their lines into the indoor tank and hooking rainbow trout. Then you've got the new virtual reality sports fishing simulator and Channel 13 outdoorsman Thom Dickerson, broadcasting live throughout the ten-day event. 5-10 p.m. tonight. Through January 12. Astrohall and AstroArena, Kirby Drive at Loop 610, 799-9500. $5; $2, children under 12.
Speed There's Keanu Reeves's version, and then there's IMAX's version, which cuts the Hollywood crap and gets down to the heart of the matter -- intensely fast forward motion. Using cyclists racing around the concrete bowl of an Olympic velodrome, a future Indy champ manipulating the hairpin turns of a mountain road and astronauts soaring above Earth at 25,000 miles per hour, this film examines the social, historical, comical and scientific aspects of speed. Multiple showings daily. Space Center Theater, Space Center Houston, 1601 NASA Road 1, (281) 244-2100. IMAX screenings are included in the park's general admission price of $11.95 for adults, $8.95 for children four-11 and $10.95 for seniors. Children under four admitted free.
Taking Steps The Alley presents its ninth and final play of the 50th anniversary season, and they've chosen to go with goofy, lighthearted fun in the form of a British farce. Ill-conceived schemes, mistaken identities and English puns are the mainstay of Alan Ayckbourn's madcap play. Previews begin today (Taking Steps opens officially on January 8). 7:30 p.m. Neuhaus Arena Stage, Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, 228-9341. $19, preview performances; $35-$37, January 8-26.
Natural Medicine Center open house Natural Medicine Center, a multidoctor holistic health facility, opens its doors to the curious today. Sign up for a chair massage, witness an acupuncture demonstration, sit in on an anti-aging seminar, then extend a warm greeting to hydrocolon specialist Patti Borunda and her colleagues, who will share ways to get off to a healthier 1997. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The Natural Medicine Center, 449 Bay Area Boulevard (near Highway 3), (281) 286-6040. Free.
Meet Darth Vader He'll never be nominated for father of the year, but his appearance does make for the best photo op since Santa hightailed it north. Plus, he comes bearing gifts from "a galaxy far, far away." 11 a.m.-noon. Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Boulevard, Galveston, (800) 582-4673. Free.
The Great American Train Show Who didn't want to grow up and drive a train when they were kids is what I want to know. The romance, the whistles, the power to bring traffic to a screeching halt at each intersection through which you traverse, the great hats: Relive the fantasy at the Great American Train Show. More than 10,000 model trains will be on display (and for sale!), including a four-track railroad that they'll let you -- or your kids, if they must -- operate. 11 a.m.5 p.m. today and Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenue of the Americas, (630) 834-0652. $5; free, children under 12 accompanied by a paying adult.
Cat Fanciers' Association Championship Cat Show Feast your eyes on all manner of cats, taking special note of the Maine coon cat. Organizers describe this animal as one "noted for its size and people-loving, gregarious personality," which makes it sound about as much like a dog as a cat can get. This could be the perfect pet. Purebred cats, kittens and everything for and of cats will be available for purchase. Hosted by the Silver Rebels Cat Club, with some proceeds going to the Bay Area SPCA and other area animal welfare groups. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. today; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Moody Gardens Convention Center, exhibit hall, 1 Hope Boulevard, (281) 367-7822. $5; $3, seniors and children under 12.
Grease Vintage is hip. Case in point: Levi Strauss reissues -- and sells -- its old-style, shrink-to-fit waist overalls at $100 a pop; Californians successfully stage a mass protest of a planned revamping of the original McDonald's; Grease is back. The stage version only has about half of the good songs from the movie version, but tunes such as "Summer Nights" still shine, there's an occasional good dance sequence and the clothes in the pajama party scene are sweetly risque. 3 and 7:30 p.m. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, (800) 821-1894. $14.50-$45.50.
Polka can do it all! That's what the Polka Lovers say: Lose weight, exercise, meet people, have fun -- all with polka. Polka newbies can see for themselves at this afternoon shindig featuring the Texas Plainsmen, Jim Rhode and Tony Janak. This dance is a low-key opportunity to make polka contacts; you see, polka dances, like raves, happen all the time, but only those in the know can find them. 1-6 p.m. Rosenberg American Legion Hall in Rosenberg. For directions or more information about the Polka Lovers Klub of America, call (281) 480-3965. $6.
Irish festival Just a few weeks back, the Duck hosted the Noise for Toys benefit, and later this month they'll open for a fundraiser for a liver transplant candidate. Today, that spirit of generosity is extended to the Southwest Celtic Music Association. Houston's most loved Irish entertainers will gather to generate some cash for the upcoming North Texas Irish Festival. Noon. McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 528-5999. $6.
Smithsonian Voices of Discovery In conjunction with America's Smithsonian, ten speakers of considerable reputation will spend two weeks offering more than 50 free lectures and workshops at locations all over the greater Houston area to teach us more about the culture that is America. Today, David Pawson of the National Museum of Natural History talks about "Marine Monsters: Real and Unreal" at 4:30 p.m. and "Exploration of Great Ocean Depths: Progress and Promise" at 7:30 p.m. at the Cypress Creek Branch Library meeting room, 6815 Cypresswood Drive in Spring (376-4610). At 6:30 p.m., James Zimbelman of the National Air and Space Museum covers "A Spacecraft Tour of the Solar System" at the Bear Creek Branch Library meeting room, 16719 Clay Road (550-0885). Future topics cover first ladies' roles, Latino culture, women's suffrage and African-American urban and social history, to name a few. For more information, call 662-2275. Free.
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Unveiling Yves Saint Laurent The spring '97 collection is in! Between noon and 2 p.m. today and Wednesday, Saks will host an informal modeling show of Laurent's spring line. (Get a jump on viewing the spring collection via the cyber catwalk; the new designs can be found at www.worldmedia.fr/fashion/YSLrivegauche/ -- just click on the shopping bag. The look is fairly classic and conservative until you get to the "brown silk crepe dress," where the splits begin to rise awfully high.) Saks Fifth Avenue, Designer Salon, level two, 1800 Post Oak Boulevard, 627-0500. Free.
Jimmy Carter: Living Faith Where there's a former president, there's Secret Service (and stringent rules). When our 39th president sits down to sign copies of his most recent book -- this one on faith (natch) and how it has guided him -- there'll be no dawdling. They say the 72-year-old Georgian is a fast signer, but don't even ask him to scribble his name on photos or especially bumper stickers. The humorless guys in the dark suits just aren't going to allow it.7 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, 523-0701. (Tomorrow, it's the same rigmarole at Borders Books and Music, 9633-A Westheimer, 782-6066, at noon.) Signing, free; the book is right at $20.
Elvis Aaron Presley's birthday The King would be 62 today. If you can't be part of the Graceland pilgrimage, or even better, shaking your hips at Ted Roddy's annual Elvis birthday bash at Austin's Continental Club, then, hey baby, head down to our own Velvet Elvis and have a drink for E. Do it this year, 'cause Presley's estate has taken a little TCB action against the establishment, and we can't say for sure what the joint will be called next year. Velvet Elvis, 3303 Richmond, 520-0434.
Welcome to the Internet $19.95 a month will pretty much buy you unlimited Internet access these days, and so it's a great time for the uninitiated to dive right in and learn to surf. North Harris Montgomery Community College District's Small Business Development Center begins a series of Internet related seminars tonight, with this introductory course aimed at individuals as well as entrepreneur types. 6-9 p.m. 250 Sam Houston Parkway, Room 101. To make reservations, call 591-9320. $30.