Fiji Island iguana is one of several animals featured in the Los Angeles Zoo's latest axhibit, LIAR Ñ Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles. (photo by L.a. Zoo)

Every year, students in Lincoln Middle School’s seventh grade life science class take a field trip to the Los Angeles Zoo. They’re lucky to have a teacher like Bob Seymour. He told me in an e-mail that his students have been studying “evolution, natural selection, taxonomy, DNA and genetics.”

Class members will be actively engaged in their zoo experience because, as Seymour explains, “Students work in teams of four to go around the zoo and find answers to scavenger hunt/search questions pertaining to topics we have studied over the year. The students actually like going and having to find the answers to the questions; they treat it like a competition.”

That’s what interactive used to mean before the advent of the Internet.

Seymour’s students can test the theories they’ve been studying when they enter the zoo’s newest exhibit, LAIR — Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles. They’ll see some of the rarest species on earth, exhibited nowhere else, such as the Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian, who has his very own mountain stream environment. That big boy’s no tadpole!

All the creatures, great and small, have habitats that look and feel like their own native environs, and both the sounds of their environment and the sounds they make are part of the immersive audio experience in the LAIR.

There are venomous serpents like the Mangshan viper from China; the green mamba, an arboreal snake from Africa; poison dart frogs, desert hairy scorpions, desert turtles, a Gila monster and iguanas — which make for quite a show at feeding time.

LAIR allows behind-the-scenes viewing of the conservation work the zoo is doing for rare and endangered species, and a lab-like setting “Behind the Glass” lets viewers see the zookeepers performing duties usually kept behind closed doors, such as food preparation and nursery care for young reptiles, lending a whole new meaning to the word “transparent.”

And when the class is done touring LAIR, they can let off some of its steamy atmosphere on the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel — where students can ride an endangered, or even a mythical, creature without fear of harming a hair on their heads. For more information, visit www.lazoo.org/lair.

Music Center or bust


My friend and I managed to avoid a zoo of a completely different sort on Sunday, as we made our way to downtown L.A. during a day of apocalyptic predictions about traffic. Three sports playoffs, a bike race and a parade were all scheduled for the same day, and rather than tempt fate and try to drive, let alone park downtown with all the street closures, we decided to take the Metro Rail to see “La Bohéme” at L.A. Opera.

Save these tips for future use, they’ll save you time and frustration. The Expo line runs every 12 minutes or so. Pick it up at Jefferson and La Cienega boulevards (parking is free) and ride to the end at Metro Center/Seventh Street. Then grab a Red or Purple line toward Union Station, hop off at the Civic Center exit, and walk two blocks — OK, I admit it, uphill — from First and Hill streets to Grand Avenue. Maybe they’ll put in a mini-funicular some day.

We bought day passes for only $5 (parking alone at the Music Center is $9), left the Westside at 11:12 a.m., arrived at around 11:40 a.m., took an eight-block walk to Cole’s for lunch (they still claim the mantle of the original French dip and I believe them since the restaurant’s been there since 1908), walked back to Metro Center and arrived at the Music Center at 1:20 p.m., with plenty of time for a leisurely drink on the plaza before the 2 p.m. matinee.

And here’s the best part: no hassle with the traffic getting out of the parking lot, and the walk to the Civic Center station is downhill from The Music Center!

Oh, how was the opera? Well, come on, it’s “La Bohéme!” One of the most recognizable, tragic romantic stories, popularized on film (Baz Luhrmannn’s spectacular “Moulin Rouge”) and in countless opera productions, and this one is sumptuous.

How can you go wrong when a real-life husband and wife play the lovers? Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello are as lovely to look at as they are to hear, and the supporting cast is stellar.

As Musetta, Janai Brugger stole the show. In March, she competed against 1,500 other singers to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and is a member of L.A. Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist program. And Artur Rucinski, making his L.A. Opera debut, as Musetta’s hot-headed jealous lover, Marcello, sings and acts the role to perfection.

Although I agree with New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley that standing ovations have become almost meaningless, this opera deserves the lengthy standing ovation it received. There are only three more performances through June 2; visit www.laopera.com/

Speaking of the Music Center, you must make every effort, whether by train or car or bus, to see the legendary musical “Follies” at The Ahmanson. This class act, oh-so-Sondheim in its never happy-ever-after story, is about a group of former stage performers gathering decades later as the theatre they worked in is about to be demolished.

Old loves, frustrated lives, eccentric characters and voices that will rock your world (especially the classic “Broadway Baby” brilliantly belted by Elaine Paige), and the kinds of costumes only Las Vegas chorus girls can dream of, make this touring production from the Kennedy Center an absolute must. Don’t miss it; through June 9. For more, visit www.centertheatregroup.org/

Closer to home, with no traffic hassles, plenty of free parking — and free wine — give “Sideways” a shot at The Ruskin Group Theatre at Santa Monica Airport. It could do with a little editing, but the group’s resourcefulness and creativity are on full view in this heartfelt effort. Pinot noir tastings are being poured by at least 40 different wineries throughout the run. Get tickets by visiting http://ruskingrouptheatre.com.

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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