Katie Russell pleaded with her mom to enroll her in dance classes when she was in kindergarten. Good call, since the 1999 Medina High School grad is making her Cleveland debut as a Rockette at tonight's opening of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at PlayhouseSquare. "I've wanted to be a Rockette ever since I saw them in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV," says Russell. "So many little girls probably say that. But I kept working at it and I got hired."
During each performance of the show's three-week run, the 22-woman dance troupe will high-kick 300 times throughout a dozen-plus numbers, including the "Parade of Wooden Soldiers" and "Living Nativity" routines that have been Rockettes staples since 1933. The dancing can become particularly grueling on Saturdays, when the gals endure four two-hour shows with a mere hour break between each performance. "It's amazing how adrenaline kicks in," says the 27-year-old Russell. "And the fact that the audience always changes gives you so much energy. You can't let them know that you may be tired or you have a hamstring. You go onstage and forget for two hours that you have these problems."
She's grown used to the schedule. After rehearsing the show in Myrtle Beach in October, Russell and her fellow dancers hoofed in Buffalo last month before arriving in Cleveland on Sunday. She's back in New York next month to juggle jobs as both a dance-school teacher and a Rockette. "As long as my body keeps up and I'm still able to do the eye-high kicks, I want to do this as long as I can," she says. "Once a Rockette, always a Rockette." Kick up your heels at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5 and 8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m., 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1, 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays (except Thursday, December 25) through Sunday, December 28 at the State Theatre (1519 Euclid Ave.). Tickets: $29.50-$79.50. Call 216.241.6000 or visit playhousesquare.com. - Cris Glaser
Nearly two dozen Lorain County agencies shake up their best alcohol-free cocktail recipes at tonight's Zero-Proof Mix-Off. And leave it to the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio to amp up their game with a cookie-flavored Thin-Mint Julep. "It sounds like a delicious milkshake," says Katie Bevan, a health educator for the Lorain County Health District. "We have a whole variety of drinks going on - from apple ciders to hot chocolates to egg nogs."
The seventh annual competition is designed to promote sober driving during the holidays. After the Amherst Marion L. Steele High School Madrigals and the Lorain County Community College Twoberi Jazz Band perform Christmas standards, judges from WEOL-AM 930, the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, Life Care Ambulance, the Amherst Police Department and the Lorain County Coroner's Office will crown the tastiest splash of good cheer, which they hope you'll offer at your holiday party. "We're reminding hosts and hostesses that they should offer nonalcoholic options to their guests," says Bevan. "Yeah, maybe you do have a spiked egg nog, but you can have other options for individuals who choose not to drink that. That's the point we want to drive home." The competition is from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lorain County Community College's Spitzer Conference Center (1005 N. Abbe Rd. in Elyria). Admission: free. Call 440.322.6367 or visit loraincountysafecommunity.com. - Glaser Friday 12.5
Of all the folks who've put up holiday displays in Northeast Ohio this season, Lake Metroparks says its sprawling Country Lights extravaganza in Kirtland is the only winter wonderland where you can stroll past in a horse-drawn carriage. "There's no concrete, clutter or cars packing the streets," says parks spokesman John Venen. "The fairy-tale nostalgia of the holidays is the experience we strive for."
Along the route, you'll see canine-obedience training demos and a musical drill by the park's Volunteer Mounted Posse & Light Horse Brigade. And no holiday is complete without making a toy with Old St. Nick himself. "Santa's Workshop is the place where memories are built, as well as toys," says Venen. "We bring all these attractions in to make sure this is an event people won't forget." The lights are on from 5 to 9 p.m. nightly from tonight through Tuesday, December 23, at Lake Farmpark (8800 Chardon Rd. in Kirtland). Admission: $5-$7. Call 440.256.2158 or visit lakemetroparks.com. - Chad Felton
If you're holiday shopping for the loved one who has everything, check out Cleveland ceramicist Mark Yasenchack's work at this weekend's ArtCraft Building Open Studio Holiday Sale. He contributes a series of four-inch-high skulls with Santa caps. "When people buy a skull, they don't buy it because it goes with their sofa," says Yasenchack. "They buy it because it's kinda comical."
The show spotlights 58 Northeast Ohio artists, including jewelry makers Dave and Roberta Williamson, photographer Al Fuchs and enamelist Cameron Tucker. The collection will also feature knitwear by Purlygirl, leather goods by Last Chance and gourmet cookies by jeweler-turned-baker Christine Mehling of the Better Bit of Butter Company. "It's not just your regular craft sale," says Yasenchack. "There's something a bit more special to it than a bunch of people throwing their work up on the wall."
Originally known as the "Bohemian Department Store" at its inaugural outing in 1981, the show is a reunion of sorts for artists who've worked in the building's sixth-floor co-op studio space since 1987. These days, the quarters are home to Yasenchack and 19 other designers, from porcelain maker Linda Goldstone and sculptor Diane Bjel to painter Marilyn Farinacci and photographer Jim Baron. "This is a great chance to buy something that you can't find at any Target," says Yasenchack. "These are real gifts that people are going to know are something special. They're not something you picked off a shelf at the store. They're valued because they have some integrity to them." The sale runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow at the ArtCraft Building (2570 Superior Ave.). Admission: free. Visit artistsofcleveland.com/artcraft for details. - Glaser
If you stop into the Koehn Sculptors & Designers Open House today, ask Norbert Koehn about the carving he handcrafted for American Idol blowhard Simon Cowell. The piece is just one of thousands of woodworks he's designed at his South Euclid workshop over the past 32 years. "People can expect a truly unusual experience in a home filled with holiday wonders and sculptures created from the heart," says Koehn, who's hosted the annual reception with his wife, Victoria, since 1979.
Trained at a state-sanctioned woodcarving school in Germany, Koehn specializes in wood, stone and bronze carvings. The couple has even worked with renowned sculptor Hans Schwaighofer to build sets and props for the famed 400-year-old passion play in Oberammergau, Germany. For today's open house, the Koehns have also imported handmade pieces from Europe - like wooden toys from the Czech Republic, juniper cutting boards from Estonia and chess sets from Poland. "It's our sincere wish that all of our guests leave with a sense of awe," says Koehn. "What else are the holidays for?" Find out for yourself from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Koehn Sculptors and Designers (1936 S. Green Rd. in South Euclid). Admission: free. Call 216.691.1936 or visit sanctuaryongreen.com. - Felton Sunday 12.7
For nearly 15 years, Linda Perko has scoured the country for rejected greyhounds that have been ostracized for not making money for professional-racetrack owners. Her annual A Greyhound's Wish benefit will help raise at least $10,000 to pay for food, vet and kennel bills at the Chagrin Falls sanctuary Perko runs with her Greyhound Adoption of Ohio volunteers. "Virtually every Greyhound is a sweet, loving dog," she says. "Considering they're coming straight from the racetrack and have never set foot in a home in their lives, it's amazing how they can adapt."
The agency uses the champagne brunch as its soapbox to expose the dogs' "barebones" living conditions at racetracks from California to Florida. It's also a way to urge prospective pet owners to consider adopting one of the more than 40 greyhounds that are now sheltered at the kennel. "They live in cages and sleep on newspaper at the track," says Perko. "So it's a lot of fun to watch them get their stuffy toys before they make beds out of blankets and quilts. It's very rewarding work." Brunch starts at 11 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Independence (6001 Rockside Rd. in Independence). Tickets: $23.95. Call 440.543.6256 or visit greyhoundadoptionofoh.org. - Glaser Wednesday 12.10
Tired of singing at your reflection in the mirror? Here's your chance to score a $50 top prize by bringing a CD of your favorite song and mouthing the words in front of a bar of gawkers at tonight's So You Think You Can Sync competition at Twist. "Most people who participate do stuff they really know," says host Big Daddy. "But some people don't give a shit. They just like to get up there onstage because they don't get to perform every day of the year."
A three-judge panel will hold up placards to rate each contestant on lip-sync precision. If a performer flubs the lyrics, the judges will shave off points. "It's strictly about lip-syncing," says Big Daddy. "You can do your favorite diva. You can do the American songbook. This can also be your time to lip-sync your favorite Christmas song. Just look like you're singing it." Grab the mic at 11 p.m. at Twist (11633 Clifton Blvd.). Admission: free. Call 216.221.2333 for more information. - Glaser
Legacy Village bursts with testosterone at tonight's Guys' Night Out shopping spree for dudes who have no clue what to buy their significant others for the holidays. "The guys that came out last year seemed to have a lot of fun," says Susan Windle, the shopping complex's assistant manager. "I think some of them were actually surprised at how much fun a shopping excursion could be. It's just our way of trying to make the holidays a little easier for our customers."
Here's how it works: Meet at 5 p.m. at the mall's guest-services center on Main Street near Starbucks and Ritz Camera. From there, staff members will escort you to more than 25 shops, including Crate & Barrel, Dick's Sporting Goods and the Viking Store. At 8 p.m., go back to the office to pick up free wrapping paper and a voucher for a complimentary drink at Bar Louie's. "The whole point is to relieve the stress that holiday shopping can cause," says Windle. "It's definitely a celebratory kind of thing." Shop 'til you drop from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight and Wednesday, December 17, at Legacy Village (25333 Cedar Rd. in Lyndhurst). Admission: free. Call 216.382.3871 or visit legacy-village.com. - Glaser