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(Left to right) Coordinating the recent Junior League of Pasadena event are Dana Jones, Sherry Gray, Katrina Onderdonk, Nicole Weaver-Goller, Hank Maarse, Marah Lyvers, Mary Snider, Carrie Rabkin and Mara Lague. (La Canada / December 8, 2010)

These past few days I have been in a heightened holiday mood. I even got my Christmas tree up and decorated on Saturday.

I look forward each year to embellishing the tree because it is like walking down memory lane as I carefully unwrap and lovingly place each ornament on the tree that we place in front of the large living room window.

Sunday's little rainstorm even put me more in tune with the season as I got cozy in front of the fireplace. I had a new book to read and steaming Earl Grey tea to sip as I admired the shimmering tree with all of its baubles and memories.

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The Junior League of Pasadena kicked off the holiday season with its annual Holiday Shopping Extravaganza.

More than 200 guests gathered at Jacob Maarse Florists in Pasadena to raise fun and funds for the League's many projects. The League was thrilled that more than $5,000 was raised that evening.

League President Nicole Weaver-Goller said, "The League is so proud and thankful to partner again with Hank Maarse and Jacob Maarse Florists to bring a wonderful event to our members and the community."

The festively dressed party-goers noshed, sipped and shopped to their hearts' content throughout the evening.

As is true of many Junior League festivities, the shopping party was open to the public, as well as to League members and their significant others. Guests raved about the wonderful food provided by Elements Kitchen and the wine from Gallo Family Vineyards.

The Jacob Maarse floral and gift shop was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wonderful displays, and guests purchased gifts, holiday arrangements and ornaments to ring in the holiday shopping season.

Valley residents who are active members include president-elect Marah Lyyers, Jenny Eccles and Stephanie Chau. Our valley is well represented in the League with 30-plus sustainer members.

Like most volunteer organizations, the Junior League of Pasadena welcomes new members with open arms. To learn more about volunteer opportunities and events, visit the League's calendar on the group's website at jrleaguepasadena.org, or "like" the group on Facebook at Facebook.com/MyJLP to stay current.

The League also is accepting new members for just another two weeks before the new-member season closes for the new year. E-mail provisionals.jlp@gmail.com for more information, or visit the "Join" tab on the League's website to sign up or learn more.

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A flurry of theater productions opened up in the Southland during the past couple of weeks.

It was to eager anticipation that the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning show, "Next to Normal," opened to thunderous applause at the Ahmanson Theatre. In fact, it was the West Coast premiere and launch of its national tour. It will end its Los Angeles run on Jan. 2.

There is no amount of sugar-coating that will make the medicine go down any easier in this emotional powerhouse of a musical about family members trying to take care of themselves and each other.

Alice Ripley plays the bipolar mother who fights a courageous battle to regain her equilibrium, not to mention her sanity. She won the Tony Award for her performance.

This is not a production for the faint of heart, but it is one for theater-goers who are ready for a dynamic contemporary score and an edgy presentation.

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Down the road a few miles, the vintage show "Westside Story" opened at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. This is such a well-loved musical that people arrived at the theater humming the tunes of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

A new twist came to this particular revival production, with Spanish translations of some of the lyrics making the show seem more authentic for the Puerto Rico neighborhood of Manhattan in which it is set.

The dancing grew stronger as the production went on and I thoroughly enjoyed the choreography. The outstanding character in this revival was the role of Anita, as danced and sung by Michelle Aravena, who stole the show. Maria and Tony, the star-crossed lovers, were sung by Kyle Harris and Ali Ewolt, both adequate but not outstanding.

Even though this particular production is uneven, "Westside Story" will always command an endearing and loved place in the history of American Musical Theatre.