2015 Arts & Entertainment Season Preview
Our annual look at some of the hottest tickets in town in art, music, theater, dance, film and comedy.
Part of Flora Maria Garcia’s job is to know just how healthy the area’s arts scene is.
It’s an easy call these days.
“Look at the number of capital campaigns that are going on right now,” says the CEO of United Arts of Central Florida, which distributes grants to arts organizations. “The Enzian is building new screens. There’s the new building for the ballet. There’s the Science Center renovation. The Holocaust Center wants a new building. The third theater at the Dr. Phillips Center is on the way. There’s a lot of evolution going on.”
It isn’t just evolving: It’s busting out all over. Our preview of some of the best shows of the 2015-16 season finds art as the subject of a play, art that has taken over a boutique hotel, even art spilling out into the street. Here’s a look at the best of the bounty.
Call it a costume drama.
Created by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, and winner of six Tony Awards for its 2013 Broadway run, Kinky Boots is the story of a British shoe manufacturer whose failing business gets a leg up when he begins partnering with a drag queen to manufacture a line of flashy, high-heeled, hip-high boots, thus opening up the enterprise to a whole new clientele. Running Feb. 23-28, Kinky Boots is the obvious highlight of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series of musical productions at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. But given how much Orlando loves jukebox musicals, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical might just be in there snapping at its heels.
Made in the same mold as Jersey Boys and Motown: The Musical, Beautiful is a loosely knit songster bio about crooner and composer King and her ’60s collaborators. See if you recognize the following song titles: “Take Good Care of My Baby,’’ “It’s Too Late,’’ “I Feel The Earth Move,’’ “You’ve Got a Friend,’’ and “It Might as Well Rain Until September.’’
If you do, you might be mildly miffed by the crack that New York Times writer Ben Bradley worked into his review when the show opened on Broadway: “You can’t go wrong helping AARP members recall the soundtrack of their youths.”
But perhaps not so miffed that you won’t be sure to circle May 3-5 on your calendar.
The National Young Composer’s Challenge is a star search for teenage composers, dreamed up by local inventor, philanthropist and music aficionado Steve Goldman seven years ago. It’s a “dragnet for talent,” in Goldman’s words.
Composers from all over the U.S. submit original scores, five minutes long or less, ranging from classical to contemporary. Eight winners are selected to come to Orlando to work individually with a professional conductor and orchestra that rehearses and then performs their individual compositions.
All this happens in front of an audience, which gets the chance to see the inner workings of a piece of music being brought to life. For the rookie composers, it’s the musical equivalent of a fantasy baseball camp.
The free event, which is being held for the first time at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts., takes place Oct. 18 from 1-5 p.m.
Art Around the Corner
Ed Woodham thinks art needs to take a walk on the wild side—see his Numb & Number at left. For 11 years, operating out of a scruffy warehouse studio in Brooklyn, Woodham has been taking it to the streets, collaborating with visual and performing artists from all over the world to bring a quirky sampling to the sidewalks, parks and subways of New York City.
His annual 10-day event is called Art in Odd Places. It debuted on the Lower East Side and in the East Village in 1995, moved on to a busy crosstown stretch of 14th Street in Manhattan a few years later, then started popping up all over the world, as cities from Sydney, Australia, to Indianapolis, Indiana, enrolled Woodham to help them stage their own Art in Odd Places events.
This month, Orlando takes its turn.
So, should you find yourself navigating Magnolia Avenue or Church Street in downtown Orlando from Sept. 17-20, do not be alarmed to encounter, say, two people dressed up in a tube-like outfit that doubles as a musical instrument. Or a performance artist posing as a madman who will try to convince you to erase the term “climate change” from your vocabulary. Or the sound of a familiar voice coming at you from multiple directions as you are serenaded by 100 Siris in sync.
Altogether there will be more than 50 themed urban-art installations—Woodham likes to call them “interventions”—in the juried event, which is being sponsored by the Downtown Arts District.
“The majority of the people I run across in public places are buried in their responsibilities, more recently transfixed by their cell phones, and hypnotized by their routines,” says Woodham.
And sometimes, when you’re in a funk like that, there’s nothing better than the sight of two people dressed up like a human sousaphone to pull you out of it.
The Flying Circus Lands Twice
The British are coming! The British are coming! Is there an echo in here? Is this the Department of Redundancy Department? Beg pardon. We were looking for the Ministry of Silly Walks.
If that reminds you of a typically absurd skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a BBC production that revolutionized televised comedy when it turned up on the telly in 1969, you’ll soon be getting not one but two chances to become reacquainted with the lunacy of the British comedy troupe that produced it.
First chance: Orlando Shakespeare Theater will open its 2015-16 season with Spamalot. The musical comedy, written by Monty Python mastermind Eric Idle, is based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a spoof of the King Arthur legend. Spamalot will be staged Sept. 9-Oct. 11, with hometown favorite Davis Gaines as the king.
Second chance: On Oct. 16-17 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Idle will appear with fellow Monty Python John Cleese in Together at Last—for the First Time. The pair will tell stories, perform comical musical numbers, show vintage footage, field questions from the audience and juggle—underwater, or so they say.
For as long as there are home shopping networks, the name “Tiffany” will be linked to stained glass lamps.
What’s ironic is that as beautiful as they are, the original Tiffany lamps, created in the late 19th century, were not of primary importance to their namesake, Art Nouveau mastermind Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the jewelry entrepreneur.
The younger Tiffany was a decorative arts luminary better known for redecorating the White House and designing the stained glass windows that decorated the churches and luxury homes of the era. The lamps were designed and mass produced by humble artisans at his factory/studio.
One of the world’s most extensive collections of the lamps is at the Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, where a new installation of the luminous fixtures, glowing with cut-glass wisteria, peonies and dragonflies, will open Oct. 20. One of the highlights of the new display illustrates how designers, artisans and business managers worked together to create a daffodil reading lamp, one of the most popular styles of the era.
Art at the Alfond
Happy hour meets art appreciation class on the first Wednesday of every month at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park.
The hotel is a soothing boutique with an old-world conservatory and a European-style courtyard, but don’t expect what you see on its walls to blend in as demurely as elevator music.
Shared in a unique partnership with the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, the museum-quality contemporary works reflect compassion for the underprivileged, impatience with gender- role stereotypes, celebration of embattled cultures and defiance of domineering ones.
A free, 45-minute, first-Wednesdays tour starts at 5:30 p.m. and includes a discount on selected wine and nibbles for participants. During the tour, a docent leads guests past the works of artists such as Jenny Holzer, Deborah Kass, William Kentridge and Rosalyn Drexler, all of them adept at combining technical inventiveness with subtle social commentary: Who knew pastels can bespeak governmental paranoia? You should have plenty to talk about afterward, over that glass of wine.
You might also want to raise a toast to Rollins College graduates Barbara and Ted Alfond, who developed and donated the still-evolving collection of more than 200 works.
Plaza Live Redux
It’s quite a jump from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Magic Flute. But such is life at the Orlando icon known as The Plaza Live.
Once a thriving, 1960s-era neighborhood cinema house with fancy rocking-chair seats, the Bumby Avenue establishment fell into disrepair in the ’90s but clung to life by showing second-run movies and cult classics. When that strategy began to fail, it was converted into a funky, no-frills concert hall where a parade of vintage rock bands, blues legends and stand-up comedians kept the ball rolling.
Now its lifespan has been extended once again by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, which bought the never-say-die establishment two years ago to use it as offices and rehearsal space and for chamber orchestra performances.
The orchestra will continue to use the Bob Carr Theater as its performing home base for the classical and pops series. But its lone opera of the season, Mozart’s fairy tale extravaganza The Magic Flute, will take place in the more intimate environs of Plaza Live’s 815-seat theater, with shows April 1, 3 and 5.
The durable movie house, once a fashionable two-screener, will continue to do double-duty, with pop-music groups and comedians performing regularly. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, say hello to Carrot Top. This season’s Plaza lineup will also include Cajun-blues artist Tab Benoit, son-also-rises folk singer Arlo Guthrie, and ’70s-era rock group Kansas.
Less Than Meets the Eye
Mad Cow Theatre’s lineup of plays this season will range from the adult-puppet comedy of Avenue Q to Eugene O’Neill’s classic, personal-demon exorcism, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But what might be the most intriguing play of the season for the professional company located on Church Street is less familiar: Art, a comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza, best known for God of Carnage, the acclaimed social satire about how thin the civilized urban veneer can be when put to the test.
Carnage was about two couples who meet to discuss a schoolyard scrum between their children and try to be polite about it—at first. Art, which premiered 23 years ago at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées in Paris, follows a similar pattern. It’s about a man who, much to the consternation of two friends, brings home an unframed, 5-by-4-foot canvas he purchased at a gallery. It’s painted white. That’s it: A canvas, painted white, as featureless as a piece of paper in a copying machine. But it must be art, because he paid a lot for it. This raises an issue for his companions, whose struggle between honesty and friendship creates a carnage of its own. Jan. 22-Feb. 22.
A Woman's Perspective
Jodi Cobb figures she spent a quarter of her career as a National Geographic magazine photographer “trying to prove I could do what the boys could do.”
Then came the revelation: better to focus on what the boys couldn’t do.
A male photographer would have been hard pressed to establish the kind of rapport she built up in order to create the intimate portraits of Saudi Arabian women that appeared in the magazine. Those photos, and others like them, will be on view at the Orlando Museum of Art Jan. 23-Apr. 24 as part of the touring exhibit Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment.
The exhibit is a selection of 99 powerful images created by 11 female photographers who have appeared in the magazine since 2000. Most of them are freelancers—only four women have served as staff photographers, as opposed to at least 10 times as many men, since the publication was founded in 1888. The images range from Stephanie Sinclair’s compelling portraits of child brides in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Yemen (left) to Erika Larsen’s work exploring remote cultures that are still intimately tied to the natural world.
A Weighty Issue
Orlando theatrical producer Beth Marshall (right) has been winning a fierce battle with her weight lately, shedding a hundred pounds in the past year via exercise and a vegan diet. You might assume her personal situation has something to do with her choice to stage The Whale, a play about a morbidly obese man’s struggle to reconnect with his daughter and come to terms with his past.
“This man’s journey has very little to do with my own, quite honestly,” she says. “He is not losing weight. I am.”
The Whale, a Samuel Hunter play that was first produced at Playwrights Horizon in New York City in 2012, will be presented at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden, Mar. 18-Apr. 3. Most of all, it’s a character study about a person who has a tremendous depth of compassion for other people but applies very little to himself. Hence the body issue thing. (The male lead will have to wear a body suit to simulate being over 600 pounds; no one who actually weighs that much could stand up to the demands of rehearsal.)
The play is unyieldingly blunt in its portrayal of the day-to-day realities of being so obese that it’s a struggle to stand up, use the bathroom, and simply take a breath, among other things.
“It’s going to take some people out of their comfort zone,” says Marshall, who was artistic director of Orlando’s Fringe Festival for eight years before resigning in 2011 to form her own production company. “This will drive one kind of audience out of the Garden Theatre. But it will bring another kind in.”
A Darker Disney
Besides holding the record for the longest title, A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney might just be the strangest play to be produced in Central Florida this season—strangest outside of the Fringe Festival, anyway.
In this darkly imagined portrait, Disney more or less conducts his own inquest—sometimes acting out scenes with his brother, daughter and son-in-law, sometimes calling out camera shots, sometimes speaking directly to the audience. In contrast to the erase-those-udders-from-the-cows animated shorts and features that fueled the charming but antiseptic Disney legend, this play is all about the ugly underbelly. This Walt is more Citizen Kane than Cinderella. A master manipulator, loved by millions but struggling to connect with his own family, he blusters and bullies, chain smokes and name drops.
“FDR saw my movies,” he crows. “King George was a fan. Douglas Fairbanks says nice things about me. Jerry Lewis, Groucho Marx: fans. Head of the CIA, head of the FBI: fans. Senator McCarthy: friend and fan.”
Directed by Jeremy Segher and featuring John DiDonna (left) as Walt, the play will be presented at the Orlando Shakespeare Center, Nov. 20-23.
“It’s not a bio play. What’s being dramatized is the idea of Walt Disney,” says playwright Lucas Hnath, even though he clearly constructs this Darth/Disney fantasy out of bits and pieces from the life of the original Mouseketeer. Cigarettes were, indeed, the death of him. He did testify, enthusiastically, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. And there’s a certain ironic verisimilitude in the sight of Uncle Walt, ever the impresario, trying to orchestrate the proceedings of his own demise as if it’s just one more episode of Disney’s Wonderful World of Color to which he can attach a happy ending.
Though he grew up just a short drive from Disney World, Hnath, who lives in New York City now, has no particular bone to pick here. He specializes in semi-biographical stage portraits of celebrities, from Isaac Newton to Anna Nicole Smith.
A Fringe for All Seasons
Spring means Fringe to fans of the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. But then, so does summer, winter and fall.
The festival brings hundreds of independent productions to the Loch Haven Park area each May for a two-week extravaganza of drama, comedy, puppetry, mini-musicals, random show-biz oddities and rampant exhibitionism.
But for the past four years, the best of those shows have been brought back for curtain calls. It’s called Fringe Year Round, a chance to see shows you may have missed. The fall lineup kicks off with six productions at the Mandell Studio Theater in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center Sept. 4-6: Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll; Massage a Trois; Once I Laughed; Bubble Gum Party; Egg Tooth; and Autobahn.
Australian Jon Bennett, a brilliant raconteur with a wacked-out but compelling array of stories about his family and his own quirky obsessions, will return with three shows at The Venue Oct. 15-17.
The Fringe Festival is campy as ever, but it has also, dare we say it, shown signs of maturity: Bennett is among a growing corps of sophisticated Fringe-circuit artists, such as Martin Dockery and Chase Padgett (left), whose shows emanate an unpretentious but unmistakable aura of off-Broadway depth and polish.
Which shouldn’t be so surprising: Orlando’s Fringe is the oldest in the country. When May finally does roll around, the unjuried, uninhibited, unconventional festival will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
One thing fans of the Global Peace Film Festival have come to understand is that there are a lot of ways to explore that single word: peace. Hard as it might be to come by it in real life, festival organizer Nina Streich has had no trouble discovering peace as a theme in multiple documentaries.
Over the past 13 years the film festival has presented hundreds of them, exploring endless variations of the search for peace among individuals, groups and nations: Latino teens in a drug- and gang-ridden South Texas town who found a way out by playing in a mariachi band; a West Indian cricket team whose success struck a blow against racism; the daily lives of Japanese children whose playgrounds and schools are danger zones because of the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster; and a collaborative effort among three groups, one American, one Nigerian, one West Indian, to define what happiness is (at the end they meet with the Dalai Lama, who tells them: “I don’t know. You have to find it for yourself.”).
There is usually at least one documentary in the mix with a local connection, and this year is no exception: both the director and producer of Autism in Love, which explores whether romance can triumph over a disorder that profoundly affects the ability to interact, studied film at the University of Central Florida.
The annual, affordable festival (all shows are $8) will present roughly 50 films and several discussion groups, Sept. 28-Oct. 4 at Rollins College, the Winter Park Library and at Premiere Cinema 14 at Orlando Fashion Square.
There’s a lot of “new” in the air for Orlando Ballet these days. It is still settling into a rehearsal studio near Ivanhoe Village. The company also will embrace a welcome change in musical accompaniment this season, dancing to the strains of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra rather than recorded music. And Artistic Director Robert Hill has jettisoned recurring choreographic works Vampire’s Ball and Battle of the Sexes in favor of a new work, The Firebird, with music by Igor Stravinsky.
It will be paired with To Familiar Spaces In Dream, (above) an original work by dancer and choreographer Jessica Lang, Feb. 5-7 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.