Limelight: On With the Shoo

Treasure Tavern, a new attraction for grown-ups, has comedians, a contortionist and that old vaudevillian spirit.



Mongolian contortionist Unga Otgonbayar is among the treasures at Treasure Tavern.

Courtesy of Treasure Tavern

Sometimes I miss The Ed Sullivan Show.

On Sunday nights in the 1950s and ’60s, Sullivan’s iconic variety program offered an overstuffed cavalcade of comedians and contortionists, singers and jugglers, magicians and acrobats and puppets. (Topo Gigio, anyone?)

Dear Ed and his gang may have gone to that big TV network in the sky, but I recently discovered that their vaudevillian spirit lives on at Treasure Tavern.

The new, adult-oriented attraction is produced by the folks behind the family-friendly Pirates Dinner Adventure. The two venues share a building in the I-Drive area. Treasure Tavern (treasuretavern.com) delivers, as Sullivan used to say, “a really big shoo”—or, at least, a really multifaceted one.

Although the shoo, ah, show, is definitely for grown-ups, it is hardly X-rated. Some of the costumes are rather skimpy, but there is no nudity.
Part of what’s “adult” about it is the humor, which is no more risqué than I’d expect to encounter at a typical comedy club. The other “adult” part involves the venue, which seats 260 and has the sophisticated, wood-and-leather look of an upscale club. Bar drinks and a three-course prime-rib dinner are available as options, served on the sort of fine tableware you don’t often encounter at dinner shows.

Roberta Patton plays Gretta von Keagel, supposedly the widow of the tavern’s former owner, who is said to have died while in bed with her. Patton, who emcees the evening, is the Sullivan figure here, except that, unlike the unabashedly talent-free Ed, she can actually sing, dance and tell jokes.

The show includes most of the old Sullivan staples, with improv comedy and party games thrown in to engage the audience directly.

My favorites included a contortionist from Mongolia, a group of female singers and dancers called Jewels, and a Canadian-Bulgarian couple who did an acrobatic Apache dance, flinging each other around the stage.

Not especially to my taste were an unfunny pair of Statler and Waldorf-type pirate puppets and a Russian quick-change duo. I could also have used less of those party games and that risqué humor (which I didn’t find offensive, just a tad corny).

A talented comedy troupe (Todd Feren, Ed Budd, Daniel Jordan) appeared throughout the evening. Its female member, a waitress called Jinx (Michelle Feren) in pigtails and knee socks, did an entertaining dumb-bunny shtick that reminded me of another old variety-show host, Tommy Smothers.

But the best reason to check out Treasure Tavern is Kirk Marsh, a brilliant Iowa-born juggler, clown and comic magician who performed (without speaking) under the odd name of Poopsie.

At one point, he appeared in a magician’s tuxedo, attempting tricks that (intentionally) kept misfiring. What made this part of his act especially funny was that whenever anything happened that was even slightly unexpected, he would strike a dramatic pose, as if to say, “Isn’t that amazing?”

Your favorites at Treasure Tavern might be different from mine, but that’s the nice thing about a variety show: If you don’t like a particular act, another will be along in a few minutes.

Just like on The Ed Sullivan Show.


The Force Was With Us

Jon Stewart

“I want to thank the organizers for holding this event in Central Florida—in August,” said Jon Stewart, welcoming thousands of UPFs (Ultra-Passionate Fans) to Star Wars Celebration V at the Orange County Convention Center, while getting in a small dig at the sweltering summertime climate hereabouts.

The comment got a big laugh from those UPFs, many of whom had waited in the heat outside for hours to get into The Main Event, at which Stewart interviewed George Lucas about such topics as how often the Star Wars creator visits Orlando (“I live at Disney World,” joked Lucas) and how Lucas managed, against all odds, to stay focused on his vision of the films (“It helps to be nuts”).

Eventually, Stewart and Lucas were joined on stage by Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), with Hamill confiding, “I’m in the ‘elderly recluse’ phase of my career,” while the ever-outrageous Fisher jokingly asked Lucas, “Did you ever put the nude scenes back in [Star Wars]? They have a huge, me-and-Jabba porn scene.”

Stewart thanked the celebs, especially Lucas, to whom he paid a wry tribute. Lucas, he said, “is the man who is really the reason all of you aren’t at a Star Trek convention.”

—JB


Big Man on Campus

Thomas Jane and Jane Adams star in Hung on HBO.

I had an urgent question about Hung, the scrappy, saucy, often-insightful HBO series that just wrapped up its second season.

My question wasn’t about the basic premise, which focuses on Ray Drecker, a cash-strapped high-school teacher and basketball coach in Detroit who moonlights as a sort of “call guy” for bored, affluent women. Nor was my question about the stars, including Thomas Jane (oddly touching as Ray), Anne Heche (sharp and strong as Ray’s ex-wife) and Jane Adams (amusingly spacey as Ray’s “pimp”).

And I certainly wasn’t curious about the title, which obviously alludes to Ray’s principal qualification for his after-hours assignations—and, less obviously, to his entire “hung-up” life.

What I wanted to know concerned the hero’s alma mater: The series pilot established that the character of Ray was a star high-school athlete who attended the University of Central Florida on a baseball scholarship.

So my question, of course, was: Why UCF?

“For Ray, the idea of going from Michigan, where it’s extremely cold, even during baseball season, to Florida was kind of the ideal,” explained series co-creator and executive producer Dmitry Lipkin, when I phoned to ask him my question. (Full disclosure: I teach at UCF.) He also noted that Drew Lindo, a writers’ assistant on the program, had actually attended UCF and was able to provide details about the school.
Lipkin added that he thinks of UCF as the place where Ray’s charmed life as a star athlete began to come apart.

“He was probably the best player in his high school, and probably when he went to the University of Central Florida, he was like maybe one of the best,” said Lipkin. “There was a sense of: Yes, I’m still good, but there are people who are better.”

But not necessarily bigger.

—JB

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