Light Shows

See a display of more than 500,000 lights forming animals, plants and fountains at Brookside Gardens' Garden of Lights holiday show, through Jan. 2. The half-mile walk is open Thursdays through Sundays from 5:30 to 9 nightly (closed Mondays through Wednesdays and Dec. 24, 25 and 31). Last visitors are admitted at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per car. Brookside Gardens is at 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton. Call 301/962-1453.

Gaithersburg's Winter Lights Festival offers a special Sneak Preview Weekend on Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. at Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg. The 3.5-mile drive-through exhibition of more than 200 illuminated displays reopens Dec. 3 and runs through Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 25). It will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 6:30 to 9:30, and Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission is $10 per car. Call 301/258-6350.

Tour a magical winter wonderland with more than 750,000 lights, a North Pole Workshop, a Candy Mountain Express and the Elves' Holiday Hideout at the Baltimore Zoo's ZooLights, open Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 12 from 5:30 to 9:30 and nightly from Dec. 16 through Jan. 2 (except Dec. 25) from 5:30 to 9:30. This is a walking tour, with warming stations selling hot cider, hot chocolate and other refreshments. Admission is $4.50, $2.50 for seniors and children 2 through 15 (younger free). Take I-95 to I-395 Exit 53, follow Martin Luther King Boulevard 2.5 miles to McCullough Street, turn left and follow it to the zoo on Druid Park Lake Drive. Call 410/366-5466.

Benefit Concert

Pete Seeger and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Christine Balfa & Dirk Powell, Geno Delafose, "Banjo Dancer" Stephen Wade, Hazel Dickens & Dudley Connell, Alan Jabbour, the gospel group Prophecy and other special guests will present a benefit concert, Wednesday at 7:30 at the State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. Proceeds from the concert will help create the Henry Reed Fund for Folk Artists at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Reed, who died in 1968, was a celebrated West Virginia fiddler. Tickets are $25. Call 202/835-3655.

Curtain's Up

The GALA Hispanic Theatre presents "Neruda 2000," a musical adaptation of Noel Laureate Pablo Neruda's "Dos mil," in English and Spanish, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 4 and 7:30 at the theater, 1625 Park Rd. NW (Metro: Columbia Heights). Tickets are $20 for Friday and Sunday shows, $22 on Saturdays. Call 202/234-7174.

Robert Urich, Nana Visitor and Vicki Lewis star in "Chicago -- The Musical," opening Tuesday at 8 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (Metro: Metro Center, Federal Triangle). Performances continue next week on Wednesday at 7 and Thursday at 8, with shows running through Jan. 2. Tickets are $35 to $67.50 Telecharge, 800/447-7400; for information, call 202/628-6161.

The musical "Annie" returns to the Warner Theater for eight shows Tuesday through Dec. 5. Performances are Tuesday through Dec. 3 at 8, Dec. 4 at 2 and 8 and Dec. 5 at 2 and 7. The Warner Theatre is at 13th and E streets NW (Metro: Metro Center, Federal Triangle). Tickets are $25 to $55 from Ticketmaster, 202/432-7328 (service charges); for information call 202/783-4000.

OUR PICKS

Nightlife

Richard Thompson keeps going and going and going, releasing one fine record of Brit-inflected rock and folk after another. This astonishingly talented alumnus of the original Fairport Convention lineup arrives in town for two nights (Sunday and Monday) at the Birchmere (703/549-7500), on the heels of his excellent release, "Mock Tudor."

-- Eric Brace

Dance

"Dance for Life" isn't kidding; proceeds from the gala performance will benefit the Whitman-Walker Clinic and choreographer Eric Hampton, who has Lou Gehrig's disease. Performing will be Tony Powell/Music & Movement, the Washington Ballet, Bowen McCauley Dance, the Maryland Youth Ballet and ARKA Ballet, Tuesday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Call 202/467-4600.

-- Sarah Kaufman

Exhibition

Because of critical conservation work that prevented Johannes Vermeer's "The Art of Painting" from traveling, the Dutch master's famous painting never made it to Washington for the blockbuster 1995-96 exhibition on the 17th-century artist. Through Feb. 6, the famous work will at long last be on view at the National Gallery of Art's West Building, Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202/737-4215 (TDD: 202/842-6176). See story, Page 62. -- Michael O'Sullivan

Film

Why groan your way through the "Pokemon" movie, when you could be chuckling all the way through "Toy Story 2"? It's the hilarious, possibly even better sequel to Walt Disney's "Toy Story." Woody's back. So is Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head and the rest of the gang. You're going to love being a parent this weekend. See review on Page 45.

-- Desson Howe

REST OF THE BEST

`Nutcracker'

* The Fairfax Ballet presents "The Nutcracker," Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 2 and 7:30 and Sunday at 3 at Fairfax High School, 3500 Old Lee Hwy. Fairfax. Tickets are $14 to $20. Call 703/378-7706.

* The Puppet Co. presents "The Nutcracker," Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 and 1. Shows continue Dec. 3 through Dec. 30 (no shows Dec. 24-25). Tickets are $5. Reservations are recommended. Call 301/320-6668.

Reston Turns 35

Reston celebrates its 35th birthday with a Holiday Parade, featuring giant balloons, marching bands, firetrucks and Santa Claus, Friday at 11 on Market Street and the Reston Town Center, Market Street and Reston Parkway, A tree-lighting ceremony is at 6. Call 800/368-8696.

Levinson Film Premiere

"Liberty Heights," the new film from Baltimore-born filmmaker Barry ("Rain Man") Levinson will premiere at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Wednesday at the American Film Institute in the Kennedy Center. The movie opens commercially next month. Attending the function will be "Liberty Heights" actors Justin Chambers and Carolyn Murphy. The movie, which marks the fourth installment of Levinson's so-called "Baltimore films," examines the changing times of the '50s and the issues of race, class and religious distinctions as seen through the eyes of a Jewish family. On Saturday, the American Film Institute will show Levinson's other Baltimore films: "Avalon" at 2 and 8:30, "Tin Men" at 4:30 and "Diner" at 6:30. All tickets (including for the premiere) are $6. Purchase either in person at the AFI box office or by phone 202/785-4601. For more information, call 202/833-2348. Tickets for the premiere (also $6) are not available until Monday.#

Family Fare

* Using new light technologies, the LUMA Theatre of Light tells the story of how light appears in life, depicting fireflies, shooting stars, spinning galaxies and floating moon goddesses, Friday through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Showtimes are Friday at 3:30 and 7:30, Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 and 3:30. The 1:30 show on Sunday is sign-interpreted. Tickets are $10. Call 202/467-4600 (TDD: 202/416-8524).

* Kevin Henkes' stories about a spirited mouse are adapted for the stage in "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse," performed Friday and Saturday at 11 and 1 and Sunday at 1, with 18 more performances through Dec. 28. Tickets are $10. Call 202/467-4600 (TDD: 202/416-8524).

* The Children's Theater Association presents "The Snow Queen," Saturday at noon in the Baird Auditorium in the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution

Avenue NW (Metro: Federal Triangle). Tickets are $10. Call 202/357-1500.