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Best Bets: Thursday 11/12

November 12, 1998

8 pm: Dance

Two years ago, Donald Byrd's "Harlem Nutcracker" startled local audiences with its jazzed-up, African American spin on an endlessly retold Christmas classic. Well, it's back and the novelty hasn't faded. For starters, you won't find a Sugar Plum Fairy in this "Nutcracker," but someone named Sugar Rum Cherry, who's very much a slinky Fosse-doxy. Byrd uses an expansion of the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn jazz arrangement of Tchaikovsky's score, reconceiving Clara as a grandmother in the black community whose fantasy journey takes her back in time to a Cotton Club-style showplace during the Harlem Renaissance. Not exactly for children and definitely not an unqualified success with reviewers, but in its idiosyncratic way, inimitable.

* "Harlem Nutcracker," Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., at Western, Los Angeles. Also Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. $25 (children at matinees)-$45. (310) 825-2101.

8 pm: Theater

Celebrating the Gershwin centennial, Maureen McGovern and Gregory Harrison head the cast in "Of Thee I Sing," a Reprise! Broadway's Best in Concert semi-staged production of the George and Ira Gershwin musical. With book by Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman, the 1931 satire of American presidential elections made history by being the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.

* "Of Thee I Sing," UCLA, Freud Playhouse, Parking Lot 3, Hilgard Avenue, Westwood, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Also this Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 22. $45-$50. (310) 825-2101.

8 pm: Theater

Internationally acclaimed solo artist Danny Hoch, below right, portrays characters ranging from a philosophizing, heroin-addicted prisoner with AIDS to a white teenager from Montana with a rap star alter ego in his hard-edged, darkly comic theater piece, "Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop." Presented by the Mark Taper Forum in association with the Actors' Gang.

* "Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop," Actors' Gang Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Dark Nov. 26. Ends Dec. 13. $25. (213) 628-2772.

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FREEBIE: "Kiss Me Deadly," Robert Aldrich's 1955 film noir classic, will screen at Chapman University, Argyros Forum, Room 208, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange, 8 p.m. (714) 997-6765.

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