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Hot picks: PyroFest, Ben Folds, Patrizio Buanne

| Thursday, May 24, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

Special event: More than a blast!

On Saturday, the first-ever PyroFest -- billed as "America's Largest Fireworks Festival" -- will be at Hartwood Acres. It's really a chance for New Castle-based fireworks company Pyrotechnico to show off its biggest, loudest and newest explosions.

Pyrotechnico's Vitale family has been making fireworks for more than 120 years. They've done shows as big as the Three Rivers Regatta, the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show and the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The pyro part of the festival will start at 5 p.m. with primarily smoke and noise-related displays. There will be six shows, including the "Rock Loves" show that took first prize at the LaRonde International Fireworks Competition in Montreal. Pyrotechnico officials estimate they will set off $350,000 to $400,000 worth of fireworks for PyroFest.

There will be entertainment starting at 3 p.m., including NOMaD and the Gathering Field. The headline act, B.E. Taylor, will perform at 8 p.m.

Admission to PyroFest is $18; $10 for ages 7 to 25; and free for age 6 and younger. VIP tickets are $40. Gates will open at 3 p.m., and spectators are encouraged to bring chairs and/or blankets to the Hartwood Acres site. Details: www.pyrofest.com or www.showclix.com .

— Michael Machosky

Holiday: Always an honor

The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland is celebrating Memorial Day on Monday with a free family celebration. The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes a 10:30 a.m. ceremony for Pennsylvania servicemembers who have died during the war on terrorism. Disc jockey Bill Lemon will play music, while guests pitch blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy picnics with food and drinks sold. Children's activities, like crafts, will be offered, along with museum tours and oral history recordings. Museum officials will re-dedicate the cornerstone and time capsule at 2 p.m. Details: 412-621-4253 or www.soldiersandsailorshall.org .

— Kellie B. Gormly

Music: Ben folds five-string violin

Ben Folds will feature selections from his new Sony Legacy album "The Best Imitation of Myself: a Retrospective" at his return engagement with the Pittsburgh Symphony on Friday evening, with Lawrence Loh conducting.

The singer-songwriter-pianist built a loyal following with Ben Folds Five, and has thrived as a solo artist. Adding symphony gigs to his performance schedule is a natural fit because he was an orchestral percussionist while growing up. He's also a celebrity judge on NBC's "The Sing Off."

His new album combines a CD of many of his best-known recordings with a second CD of live performances, plus a third disc of rarities, including alternate versions of songs, demos and previously unreleased material.

The concert starts at 8 p.m. Friday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $35 to $95.

Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org .

— Mark Kanny

Art: Emphasis on 'Textures'

From 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Emphasis Interiors will christen its new space in the Strip District with the art exhibit "Textures," which will feature the work of Pittsburgh artist Mia Tarducci Henry.

Henry's abstract paintings will be paired with brilliant sculptural glass pieces by her brother, Justin Tarducci. Also on display will be limited-edition prints from "Ephemeral Grove," Henry's latest series of print works inspired by nature that depict a large birch forest in subtle greens and blues.

This one-day event is free and open to the public. Emphasis Interiors is located at 2124 Penn Ave., 3rd Floor (entry on 22nd St.), and is otherwise open by appointment.

Details: 412-523-5821 or emphasisinteriors.com

— Kurt Shaw

Theater: He can talk the talk

Tonight -- and only tonight -- Oscar Levant and his acerbic, unrestrained wit return to the stage.

When he died in 1972, Levant was well-known for his outrageous, colorful observations -- "I am fond of saying I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin" was a classic.

His appeared in film musicals, including "An American in Paris," "The Bandwagon" and "The Barkleys of Broadway."

He's being brought back by Pittsburgh native and playwright Joel Kimmel in "At Wit's End," which will have its regional premiere at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.

"At Wit's End" finds Levant returning to the stage after battling his mental and addiction demons. He uses his anecdotes, wry musings and musicianship to help carry him through the evening.

Appearing as Levant is Chuck Muckle, who has appeared with Robert Goulet in both the national tour of "Camelot" and "South Pacific."

The show is performed as part of a dinner-theater package that begins at 5 p.m. with dinner, followed by the show at 6:30 p.m.

Admission: $15

Details: 412-521-8010

— Alice Carter

Theater: On the big stage

More than 150 young dancers, children to teens, will take to the stage of the Byham Theater on Friday evening at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School's spring performance.

The school's student and pre-professional divisions will perform Class Concert by school Principal Anastasia Wovchko and "A Voice in Time" by faculty member Alan Obuzor. The program also includes George Balanchine's "Serenade" and August Bournonville's "Napoli" and "La Sylphide."

The dancing starts at 7 p.m. Friday. Admission is $22 to $28.

Details: 412-281-6727 or www.pbt.org .

— Mark Kanny

Music: Triple threat

Join Kelli Stevens Kane on Friday for an evening of readings and performances that invites the audience to view the world from a more-positive perspective.

The poet, playwright and oral historian will perform the stage debut of three of her original literary works -- "Hallelujah Science," "I Never Laughed So Much at a Funeral" and "Big George's Wylie Avenue."

The evening is presented as a part of the fourth-annual First Voice Festival that celebrates creators and the creative process and serves as an outlet for African-American artists from both inside and outside the Pittsburgh region.

The 50-minute program begins at 8 p.m. Friday at the August Wilson Center, Downtown, and is recommended for ages 13 and older. A question-and-answer session follows the performance.

Admission: Free

Details: 412-258-2700 or www.augustwilsoncenter.org

— Alice T. Carter

Music: Mighty rivers and mountains

Geologists theorize that the Andes and the Appalachians were once connected as part of the same mountain range. What time and continental drift has sundered, singer/songwriter Emily Pinkerton seeks to reunite with her new CD, "Ends of the Earth." A multi-instrumentalist, Pinkerton combines folk music from North and South America, from bluegrass to the Chilean tradition of canto a lo poeta, or sung poetry. One track, "Negra," blends West Virginian and Peruvian melodies, while "Beautiful Dress" is a sweetly affecting love ballad that could have been covered by the Carter Family generations ago. Having lived and studied in Chile for three years, Pinkerton now makes her home in Pittsburgh, where she's the folk orchestra conductor at the First Unitarian Church in Oakland. That's also where she and her three-piece band perform live Saturday to celebrate the release of her CD. . Admission to the 7:30 p.m. concert is $15; $10 for students and artists. The First Unitarian Church is located at 605 Morewood Ave.,

— William Loeffler

Comedy: Krenn at the Byham

Hines Ward at least had some notice, but comedian Jim Krenn says it came as a kick in the McKees Rocks when he was axed from a certain radio morning show after more than 20 years on the air. Saturday, Krenn says thank you to his fans with "Jim Krenn Alive," a comedy and variety show at the Byham Theater. Krenn, who's been getting back to his stand-up roots, will perform new material, old favorites and generally jag around. He says the show is structured like "This is Your Life," where characters from his Pittsburgh past will turn up on stage. Musical and comedy guests include Scott Blasey from the Clarks, Mark Eddie, Billy Elmer, Slim Forsythe, Tom Megalis and Frank Nicotero. A special appearance by the Rod Schwartz All-Star Band will feature members of the Spuds, the 11th hour, the Affordable Floors and the Clarks. A portion of the proceeds will go to charity. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $32.50 to $52.50. Hurry, though. They're reportedly going fast.

Details: 412-456-6666, www.trustarts.org .

— William Loeffler

Music: Patrizio Buanne

Patrizio Buanne gives a Neapolitan twist to a show that is part Ricky Martin and part Harry Connick Jr.

The Italian crooner will bring his show to the Benedum Center, Downtown, on Sunday, showing his blend of classics from his homeland as well as such American hits as the Willie Nelson-Patsy Cline hit "Crazy," or the disco-flavored "You're My Everything."

He says he tries to offer that sort of blend because he does not want to be seen as "just an Italian guy singing Italian songs."

He has performed for Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush, and his international fame seems to be growing. His current album, "Patrizio," is platinum in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and South Africa.

Music will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $50 to $125, Details: 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org .

— Bob Karlovits

Special event: Pirate parrots

A flock of pirate parrots will fly to the National Aviary this weekend, when the "Parrots of the Caribbean" show will debut in the Helen M. Schmidt FliteZone Theater.

The show will feature a pirate ship and a feisty flock of macaws and other parrots, along with a flamingo, two ravens and a special appearance by the Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot.

The birds will perform stunts including raising the pirate ship's anchor, hunting for treasure and raising the Jolly Roger. "Parrots of the Caribbean" opens Saturday, and plays at noon and 2:30 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Admission to the shows is $5, in addition to general aviary admission of $13; $11 for children; and $12 for senior citizens.

Details: 412-323-7235 or www.aviary.org

— Kellie B. Gormly

Special event: Family-style variety show

Families will be invited to Gateway Senior High School on Friday, when the Monroeville Arts Center will put on a Family Variety Show at 7:30 p.m.

The show will feature three key local performers. Howard Mincone -- an entertainer who also does physical comedy and juggling -- will serve as emcee. Michael Perry, a storytelling comic, interacts with the audience and will play the ukulele as he tells stories. Larry Cervi, owner and founder of the Larry Cervi School of Performing Arts, will be bringing his East End Kids -- a teen song-and-dance ensemble -- to end the show with a touch of Broadway. The show is free, and funded by UPMC East.

Details: 412-373-0277 or www.monroevilleartscouncil.org

— Kellie B. Gormly

Theater: Audience participation

Stage & Steel Productions has kicked off its 2012 season with the family production "Don't Kill the Messenger."

Audience members will become part of this show, which tells the story of a fantasy kingdom and its preparation for the Tournament of the Tell. A mysterious messenger arrives from a neighboring land, creating drama and a difficult decision for the king, who must kill the messenger to keep peace between the kingdoms. The audience is encouraged to cheer or boo combatants as performers battle each other on stage with swords and weapons, and the audience helps players make decisions that affect the outcome.

"Don't Kill the Messenger" plays at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday at St. Peter & St. Paul Hall, 220 Mansfield Blvd., Carnegie. Tickets are $12; $10 for students and senior citizens; and $5 for age 12 and younger.

Details: www.stageandsteel.com

— Kellie B. Gormly

Special event: Soak up the sun and water

Idlewild & SoakZone -- the Ligonier family-entertainment attraction with an amusement park and a water park -- will open for the season on Thursday. The attraction -- which includes 19 major rides, 14 kiddie rides, more than a dozen water slides, Story Book Forest and others -- will be open today through Monday for Memorial Day weekend, and open again on June 2 and 3. Daily operation begins June 6 and continue through Aug. 22. The park also will be open Aug. 25 and 26, and Sept. 1 through 3. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m., and the park will stay open until at least 8 p.m.; except for today and Friday, when it will close around 6 p.m.

On Sunday and Monday, Idlewild & SoakZone will celebrate Memorial Day with a Civil War re-enactor military salute. Active-duty military personnel and up to three immediate family members will receive free admission. Members of Carpenter's Battery, a Civil War re-enactment group, will set up an authentic-looking encampment, and do artillery demonstrations and battle re-enactments each day. Also on Sunday and Monday, visitors who bring a canned-food item for the Salvation Army Food Bank will receive $6 off admission. One can per person is allowed. Regular admission is $33.99 for anyone 3 and older; $25.99 for age 60 and older; and free for age 2 and younger.

Details: 724-238-3666 or www.idlewild.com

— Kellie B. Gormly

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