Thrills for the week

July 17
Garden party: Next weekend's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream might seem to better fit the occasion, but look at it this way: Kicking off this summer's Theatre in the Park series in Civic Center Park with James Goldman's Lion in Winter at least sounds pretty cool. Taken literally, that is. Never mind that the weather is calm and the temperature glorious and stars above the Greek Amphitheater are all a-twinklin' in the clear, blue-black night sky. And isn't that just a breath of a breeze mussing your hair? As for that matter of the admission price--there isn't one. Bring a blanket, a picnic, a crowd and maybe a sweater or umbrella and enjoy your royal history lesson. Curtain time is 8 p.m. nightly today through Saturday; for more information call 770-2106.

Deja vu: Have we all been here before? Well, sorta. Just a couple of weeks ago we were cruising Cherry Creek North looking at great art and crafts, noshing on goodies and having a heck of a time. The Cherry Creek Art Walk, scheduled for every third Thursday of the month through the end of the year, is a slightly smaller-scale endeavor than the massive Cherry Creek Arts Festival, but the good-time part still applies, and so does the great art. More than twenty galleries located between 1st and 3rd avenues and Josephine and St. Paul streets host open houses tonight from 5 to 9; the profusion of nearby eateries supply a perfect excuse to stop for a bite during stroll hours; and, this month only, neighboring shops will offer bargains to gallery-goers as part of an annual sidewalk sale.

July 18
Short stuff, tall order: Talented kids from all over the city get into the act during the Denver Public Schools' Summer Stage '97, a showcase series offering a smorgasbord of performing arts programs featuring students of all grade levels. This weekend, middle-school pupils sing and dance their way through The Best of Broadway (2:30 today and Sunday; 7 tomorrow), while high-schoolers get serious in Othello Rehearsed (7 today and Sunday; 2:30 tomorrow); the festival wraps up next week with a Spanish-language play and all-age, grand-finale performances of The Sound of Music. Tickets range from $3 to $5 (family discounts available); all productions take place at Thomas Jefferson High School, 3950 S. Holly St. Call 691-7006 for tickets and information.

Summer in the city: Some things just keep inflating, growing in size year after year, like a marshmallow man. Lucky for us, the AT&T LoDo Music Festival, which offers a heap of music for just a few bucks, is one of them. Setting up in the streets of LoDo for its fifth year, the friendly urban festival will expand into visual- and performance-art areas with New Yorker Pat Olesko's inflatable art, sidewalk art by Dubliner Gary Palmer, urban ballet from the Pedestrian Project and other whimsical side shows. Today's musical lineup gets going at 6 with a mixture of ska, jazz and assorted roots and ends late with the Freddy Jones Band and the Smithereens; tomorrow's show starts at 4 with more variety, blending zydeco, gospel, blues, country, folk and headliners Tower of Power and Little Feat. Tickets are a reasonable $10 to $12 daily; enter the festival grounds (between 18th, 20th, Wynkoop and Blake streets) at 18th and Blake. Call 888-LODO or 1-800-444-SEAT.

July 19
In full bloom: Ethnic festivals are flowering in Denver over the weekend, each paying homage to growing things and fascinating cultures. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival, usually thrown in spring but held back until mid-summer this year, celebrates Japanese arts, food and customs today and tomorrow from 11 to 6 at Sakura Square, 19th and Lawrence streets. There's a reason for the fest's slight change of season: More dependable weather patterns will allow for a special "Obon Odori" folk dance, complete with kimonoed performers swinging colorful lanterns, tonight from 7 to 9. Daytime activities include martial arts demonstrations, an Akita dog show, traditional tea ceremonies and some of the best homemade festival food you'll ever savor. Admission to the 25th annual event is free.

Indigenous culture, replete with Native American arts, storytelling, music and dance, is the focus of the Denver Botanic Gardens' annual American Indian Sunflower Festival, which takes place--where else?--in the shadow of the DBG's magnificent sunflower patches, reminders of the native plant's decorative, medicinal and dietary uses. Kids will enjoy painting pots and making cornhusk dolls during craft workshops, and everyone will dig the authentic fry bread; festival activities and displays are included in the regular gate admission of $2 to $4 (children five and under free). The festival runs from 9 to 5 today and tomorrow at 1005 York St.; while you're there, check out the DBG's fun BirdHaus display, on exhibit through July 27. Call 370-8187.

Wheel 'em in: Is your kid the next Patrick Roy? The traveling NHL Breakout '97, stopping over in Denver this weekend, is as good a place as any to find out. The two-day event not only features a plethora of tournaments for dozens of local roller-hockey teams competing in state-of-the-art inflatable rinks, but it also boasts an obstacle course, demo zone and slap-shot cage for spectators and a goodwill contingent of Colorado Avalanche players to meet and greet the fans. And as for those reckless little Roys, there'll be an interactive Between the Pipes exhibit where they can sample the art of goaltending. The in-line fest runs from 9 to 6 today and tomorrow in the Coors Field parking lot; call 1-302-405-1359 or skate onto the NHL's Web site at www.nhl. com for details.

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