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DECEMBER :FIRST SUNDAY'S GUIDE TO AN EXCELLENT MONTH

Wednesday 4 The Buffalo Museum of Science has one of those can't-miss exhibits that should be required for anyone who calls himself a Western New Yorker. It's "Expect SNOW," a fun exhibit celebrating our "unique" relationship to snow. There are cool displays, a telling exhibit on the Vermonter who determined all snowflakes are different (the museum ponders the power of that insight) and such cold hands-on educational activities as drinking something warm in the "cool winter cafe." A flurry of experiences. BMS is open Tuesday to Sunday. Exhibit continues to Feb. 23. 896-5200.

Thursday 5 OK, maybe this is the unique event of the month. Larry Norton, radio personality for 97 Rock, plays George Bailey in the Starry Night Theatre's production of "It's a Wonderful Life." Staged at the Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda, the famous play tells the story of Bailey, who dreams of adventure and excitement but settles for family obligation and civic duty. Since the play preaches "no one is a failure who has friends," groups of 10 "friends" pay a reduced price. Performances start 8 p.m. today and continue Thursday to Sunday to Dec. 15. 743-1614.

-- The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library plans a two-day celebration of African storytelling featuring original artwork from "Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales." There's storytelling and the art exhibit beginning 6:30 p.m. at the downtown library, and a family program including storytellers and musicians 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. All activities are free. 858-7181 for information.

-- Sleeper hit of the month. The University at Buffalo's music department revives its very popular "Messiah" Sing-in 8 p.m. at Slee Concert Hall on the North Campus. The evening starts with a holiday program by the Sinfonietta. Then UB unleashes its department resources en masse on the Slee stage. The audience (armed with music scores) is invited to join the chorus and choir for hearty renditions of the "Messiah" choruses. A holiday reception with "all the trimmings" will be held in the lobby. Tell us how this evening could fail. 852-5000 for tickets or 645-2921 for information.

Friday 6 Studio Arena begins its run of "The Mousetrap," the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery and longest-running play in theater history, starting tonight and continuing Tuesday to Sunday to Dec. 28. Don't forget Studio's version of enhanced live theater with Talkback Tuesdays, post-performance talks with the actors, "Prereflections" 50 minutes before each show and the engaging guest speakers at Sunday Salon following the 2 p.m. matinees. 856-8025.

Viva Niagara Productions presents "Joy to the World," a Christian holiday musical dinner theater event 7 p.m. at the Grand Island Holiday Inn. Richie and Debbie Derwald star in this story of a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer given three days to transform a cast of lovable misfits into the greatest Christmas show on earth. There are more shows noon Dec. 2 to 5 and 9 to 12. Call 834-2971 for ticket availability.

Saturday 7 Artists, craftsmen and women, and gallery owners in the Elmwood Avenue area will open their doors 5 to 9 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 8 to show their art and wares. Maps and more information are available at the www.ForeverElmwood.org Web site. Or call 884-9410.

-- Another quintessential holiday event: The Gingerbread House Competition and Exhibit at the Kenan Center, 433 Locust St., Lockport starts today. Awards will be presented today, but the elaborate houses stay on display in the decorated Victorian mansion through Dec. 20. There's also Cookies & Crafts for Kids in the Kenan Greenhouse. And performances of "A Christmas Carol" Dec. 13 and 14, and music and storytelling on the weekends. Call 433-2617 for times.

Sunday 8 The Festival of Trees continues its enhancing presence in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo with a premiere brunch experience designed for maximum holiday cheer. Brunch Among the Trees includes a heart-pounding gourmet brunch, professional decorations, music, raffles and a chance to see what organizers promise will be an awesome display of dressed Christmas trees. It's 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., all to benefit Children's Hospital. There's also a black tie gala dinner featuring rock star/Mario Lanza/tenor Michael Amante 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6. 878-7313.

-- Ands don't forget your community holiday event. Here's a good one: Cheektowaga Community Chorus and the Millennium Youth Chorus present a Candlelight Concert, 7 p.m. at Cleveland Heights Christian Church, 4774 Union Road, Cheektowaga. 836-2214. Another concert 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave.

Thursday 12 The Irish Classical Theatre presents "A Child's Christmas in Wales," a musical based on the Dylan Thomas story, Thursday to Sunday through to Dec. 22 at the Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo's North Campus. 853-7355. It's another chance to see a proven holiday pleaser by one of the top theater groups around.

-- See the holidays through the eyes of one of America's greatest entertainers. MusicalFare Theater presents "Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash," a musical featuring a tribute to Sinatra holiday songs with favorite holiday stories told in the "Rat Pack" style. Performances are at 4380 Main St., Amherst, Thursday to Sunday to Dec. 22. 839-8540 for times.

Friday 13 The Alleyway Theatre presents its much-beloved version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol for five performances at the Forbes Theatre, 500 Pearl St., beginning tonight. Neal Radice's adaptation has special effects, period carolers, and the commitment and passion that pulls the audience into the famous story. 852-2600. Last show is Dec. 21.

-- Don't forget the Buffalo Choral Arts annual Christmas concert 7:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Accompanied by the Buffalo Choral Arts Society Brass Ensemble. Another can't-miss opportunity to get your holiday mind right. 832-4542. One more show Dec. 15, same time.

Saturday 14 Holiday kudos to the Olmsted Parks Conservancy for coming through with some old-fashioned and still cool ideas to celebrate both the season and that wonderful resource, Buffalo's parks system. There's wreath making 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Parkside Lodge, then family caroling in Delaware Park 7 p.m. With any luck, there will be some magic in the air. 838-1249 for more details.

Saturday 28 Drama of Christmas over? Try the Buffalo Doo Wop Holiday Reunion show 7:30 p.m. at Shea's Performing Arts. Featuring Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge and Lou Christie. 847-1410.

FIRST SUNDAY struggles with its impresario instincts when compiling its Guide to an Excellent Month. Send events at least six weeks in advance of our publication date to FIRST SUNDAY, c/o The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. Events with the widest or in some cases most intriguing appeal will be selected. Remember, information is subject to change.