Archive for the ‘Live Theatre’ Category

The Best of Enemies

October 29, 2014
The Best of Enemies

The Best of Enemies

Mrs. LanceAround has a vivid memory of her first encounter with extreme prejudice.

When only 5-years-old and living in a poor southern town, Mrs. LanceAround’s poverty stricken family had to hire a young, inexpensive helper to assist her pregnant mother with household chores. One day, the kind, black female helper took Mrs. LanceAround onto a city bus. As she held her hand up the steep bus steps, the large elderly white bus driver, in a voice filled with anger and hatred, demanded the young black servant make a quick retreat to the back of the bus. He then leaned to put his face directly into the face of the scared, 5-year-old Mrs. LanceAround and, flushed with a hatred that caused him to appear more horrible than a misshaped Halloween devil mask, told the little, white girl, who had the audacity to hold the hand of a black woman, that she, too, must go to the back of the bus.

To this day, Mrs. LanceAround cannot understand how it is possible for one human to feel such contempt for another human simply based on the color of their skin. We were intrigued with the concept of a play based on the true story of  a female African-American activist and a hate-filled leader of the KKK who were asked to co-chair a committee to assist with the desegregation of schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Would it be possible to create enough of a story arc that would engage an audience for nearly two hours?

Orlando Shakes’ production of The Best of Enemies demonstrates it’s not only possible, it’s wonderful. The playwright has selected a topic that could have easily lent itself to simplistic stereotyping; yet somehow he created a script filled with moments that were at once humorous, deeply moving, educational and profane. The actors plumbed the depth of both pathos and humanity. The direction was crisp and well-paced. The simplistic sets and dynamic lighting created the perfect atmosphere as the production fully utilized the intimate theatre to draw the audience directly into several scenes within the story. There were even several times where the lack of dialogue provided the most insightful and touching moments; such as a scene where the two protagonists were silently stapling papers together, or when they were clapping during a gospel song. Such is the power of this story that even these moments had the audience riveted to their seats, soaking in every last morsel of action.

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The Entire Cast Participated in the Talk Back

The spontaneous standing ovation mingled with the muted sobs of the audience at the end of the show indicated that everyone in the theatre experienced the same emotionally cathartic release as had Mrs. LanceAround and I. The matinee performance concluded with an audience “Talk Back” when Orlando Shakes Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger, led the entire cast in a Q & A with the audience.

The first person to speak was Darryl, a black man who attended the performance with his white girlfriend, Julie. Darryl didn’t ask a question. Instead, with tearful emotion in his voice, he thanked the entire production crew for staging a play of this importance in our local Orlando Theatre. Mrs. LanceAround was touched by the way he allowed himself to be so vulnerable with his comments. The applause of the audience told her she was not alone with her appreciation of Darryl’s courage.

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

Julie and Darryl Loved the Play

I caught up with Darryl and Julie at the end of the Talk Back. Darryl explained that his mother was a member of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that was bombed on Sunday September 15, 1961. Mercifully, his mother was not at the church on that day. For him, this play was personal. Based on the questions the audience asked and the answers given by the actors, it was obvious that everyone was touched by the powerful themes in this production.

Anna Carol, who played the wife of the KKK member, explained that she was born in 1985 in Minnesota. It was a much different world than the 1970’s of North Carolina. She had to do extensive research for her portrayal. She, and several audience members, discussed how they could relate to this issue by comparing it to the proliferation of bullying in schools today. Richard B. Watson who portrayed the KKK member, on the other hand, grew up in the south. He had only to recall conversations with his Aunt and Grandmother to help him create the voice and character of a someone struggling with desegregation. “The script is your Bible when creating a character,” he asserted, “What’s not in the script, you have to fill in.”

The Best of Enemies was produced in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. It is, quite simply, another fantastic production by the talented people at Orlando Shakes. And for the lucky readers of my blog who come to Central Florida seeking more than a mouse™ it provides the perfect evening of entertainment to enhance your vacation plans. For our local friends, this play is a must see!



The Face of God

October 14, 2014
LanceAround to Mrs. LanceAround, "To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God"

LanceAround and Mrs. LanceAround on Their Wedding Day in 1987.  “To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God.”

The Face of God

When Mrs. LanceAround and I married 27 years ago we wrote our own wedding vows. I don’t know that I can quote my entire vows verbatim, but I am absolutely certain of the last six lines.  As I gazed into Mrs. LanceAround’s eyes on the best day of my life I said to her:

“Take my hand
. . . And lead me to salvation

Take my love
. . . For love is everlasting

And remember the truth that once was spoken
. . . To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Undoubtedly many of you will recognize these as the last lines of the unforgettable musical Les Miserables. When we were dating, Mrs. LanceAround and I had the pleasure of seeing the original Broadway cast perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. before their Broadway opening. What an experience! To this day we consider it the greatest theatre experience we have ever had.

Grammy and Grandpop LanceAround baked a homemade cake for our wedding and on it they inscribed, “To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God.”

Les Miz–The Musical

Those of us who have come to love this musical often refer to it as “Les Miz”; which seems to fit it like a warm blanket snuggles you in winter. Over the years we have seen countless versions of Les Miz in many different cities (the theatre show–please don’t ask about last year’s movie.) Every time we see the show we both sob uncontrollably when Fantine, Eponine and Jean Valjean sing those last six lines.

When it was announced that our local theatre group from Orlando Shakes was opening their season with Les Miz, Mrs. LanceAround and I were a little concerned. The show is a historic epic, with a huge cast, large battle scene and complicated sets. The staging of the creation of the barricade from the student uprising of June 1832 in Paris is often referred to as the most memorable part of the original Broadway production. Could our small, regional theatre pull off such an ambitious production? Turns out they did with flying colors. (Do you hear the people sing?)

The Plot (No Spoilers)
For those unfamiliar with this popular adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tome, allow me to provide a brief, no spoilers, synopsis.

The center of the show revolves around the life of Jean Valjean, a poor French peasant who got caught stealing a loaf of bread in an effort to keep his young nephew from starving. He was sentenced to five years in the Toulon prison. His sentence ballooned to 19 years after several attempts to escape. Once he served his time, he was paroled, but had to carry a yellow parole card and present it to the authorities of every town he entered. This resulted in him becoming an outcast and, therefore, deciding to break his parole. An encounter with a very loving and forgiving Catholic Bishop ignites a spiritual transformation. In disguise, Valjean becomes a rich, well respected businessman.

Enter Fantine–A very pretty, young French peasant who was seduced by an upper class student. He subsequently dumps her before learning she was pregnant. Alone and with child, she did her best to earn a living but found the French society of the mid 1800’s to be very cruel to unmarried mothers. Desperate, she resorts to selling her belongings, her hair and, finally, her body to provide money for her child, Cosette, who lives with an opportunistic innkeeper couple and their preferred natural daughter Eponine. Fantine works in the factory owned by the disguised Jean Valjean. When she is unjustly terminated, she blames Valjean for failing to help her in her time of need. Realizing his blindness to her innocent plight, Valjean vows to raise Cosette as his own child.

Enter the Ahab-esque Javert–Who pursues Valjean throughout his entire life, determined to re-incarcerate him for breaking his parole. One can both admire and pity his simplistic, black & white fever pitched commitment to obeying the law and administering justice.

As Cosette and Eponine grow up, they both fall in love with Marius, a young revolutionary and idealistic student who, along with his friends, are sympathetic to the horrible living conditions of the Parisian peasants. All of this comes to a head on June 5, 1832, when the students build a barricade in a revolutionary attempt to take control of the city. This part of the tale is based on actual events. Meanwhile Javert finally catches up to Valjean while Eponine’s parents’ attempt to exact revenge on Valjean for taking Cosette from them.

It’s a sprawling, somewhat complicated and epic tale made even more powerful by the enchantingly haunting score with dozens of beautiful and memorable lyrics. Weaving throughout the story are dramatic moments of despair, revenge, idealism, passion, injustice, hope and, most of all, redemption. As Valjean sings to Cosette and Marius near the end of the show “…It’s the story of those who always loved you…” and shortly thereafter he concludes with “…And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God!…

Beautiful yet heart wrenching!

Here’s a glimpse of the production at Orlando Shakes:

This powerful piece of theatre has been translated into 22 different languages, performed in 42 countries and over 319 cities. In 1989 in Australia over 125,000 people attended one performance in Sydney, making it the largest crowd to have ever attended a theatre show. To date, over 70 million people have seen a live, professional performance and many, many more have seen or heard a Les Miz movie, TV special, cast recording or song. Remember the Susan Boyle phenomenon from Britain’s Got Talent? Yes, that song was from Les Miz! The London production of Les Miz is the longest running musical of all time, celebrating its 10,000th performance in January of 2010.

Introducing Les Miz to Steve and Holly

With all this exposure, it’s a rare treat to find someone who has never seen the show or, at the very least, doesn’t know something about the story. We say it’s a treat because we love to introduce people to this incredible tale.

Our good friends, Steve & Holly, are well known and respected in the vacation rental home community. They have been an enormous help to us in our business. To say, “Thanks” to them, Mrs. LanceAround and I took them to the Orlando Shakes production of Les Miz on Thursday. Since I review shows in this blog, Orlando Shakes was kind enough to give us a comp ticket and we were then lucky enough to purchase the last three tickets available with seats beside each other. Mrs. LanceAround and I did not know Steve and Holly were completely unfamiliar with the story. But in an ironic twist, Holly’s father had seen this video of the Orlando Shakes cast performing in a flashmob at The Mall of Millenia in Orlando and he had emailed her this link:

To be honest, I was a little nervous about watching the show with Steve and Holly. I knew I would cry at the end. I always do. On the other hand, I told them I was jealous. I clearly remember that night, 27 years ago, when Mrs. LanceAround and I first walked into the Kennedy Center totally unfamiliar with the story of Les Miz. The lights dimmed and we sat spellbound for three hours as the most majestic theatre performance we had ever witnessed unfurled in front of us. The Orlando Shakes is a small, regional theatre. But it’s staging of Les Miz was just as fantastic; just as memorable. As I was penning this review, Steve sent me an email that said, “Holly and I were just talking about how much we enjoyed the other night. I can’t thank you enough. We are big fans of Les Miz now.”

After the show, we walked out to the lobby of the theatre and met the talented young actress who portrayed Fantine. She, along with other cast members, were collecting donations for a local HIV charity. As we made a donation, we enjoyed hearing her tell about the passion that everyone in the cast has for this musical and how spiritual an experience it is for them.

The Roughans from Ireland (Did You Know They Were Irish?)

While speaking with her, a delightful couple from Ireland named the Roughans saw my press pass and assumed I was associated with the theatre. They pulled me aside to tell me how much they loved the show. Several times they mentioned, with obvious pride, that it was an Irishman, Colm Wilkinson, who did the original portrayal of Jean Valjean on Broadway and in London. When I told them that Mrs. LanceAround and I had the privilege of seeing Colm in the Washington D.C. production they enthusiastically nodded their head and told me, again, that Colm was Irish. Mr. Roughan also mentioned that he saw Colm perform, in Ireland, before he became famous. “Did you know he was an Irishman?” he asked again.

The Winning Ticket
As the evening came to a close and our hearts were warmed by the fantastic production we had just witnessed, we were walking out of the theatre when I suddenly remembered that earlier in the evening I had purchased all of us a 50/50 raffle ticket to help support the theatre. Each evening they sell tickets with half the revenue going to the theatre and the other half going to the person who wins the raffle. We checked the winning number and, as if the stars had filled the darkness with order and light (sorry Javert), Holly held the winning ticket.

The run for Les Miz at Orlando Shakes is now closed. It has been a smash hit with sold out audiences. You may wonder why we even review a show that is no longer available to see? The answer is simple. The lucky readers of my blog need to know about this jewel of a theatre located in the heart of Orlando. It’s a wonderful organization that produces fantastic shows. If you are local to Central Florida, it should be a routine part of your entertainment plans. If you are visiting from out of town, check their website and schedule your trip to coincide with a show that is of interest to you. I guarantee it will make your vacation to Central Florida more enjoyable and more memorable.

Don’t Miss the Next Show
The next production at Orlando Shakes, The Best of Enemies, opens next week. It’s produced in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. It tells the almost unbelievably true story of a radical KKK leader and an African-American civil rights activist who are forced to serve together during the racial desegregation of Durham SC schools in 1971. What happens next?

For goodness sake, go see the show. If it’s anything like other shows at Orlando Shakes you will thank me.

Oh, and please tell them LanceAround sent you.


Enchanted April Enchants

April 4, 2013
Mad Cow Celebrates its 17th season at its New Theatre on Church Street

Mad Cow Celebrates its 17th season at its New Theatre on Church Street

Mrs. LanceAround and I love the movie Enchanted April.

The story revolves around two dutiful yet unhappy London housewives during World War I. On a rainy, foggy day they notice an advertisement in The Times entitled “Wisteria and Sunshine.” The ad is for a month long rental, in April, of a castle on the Italian Mediterranean coast. They decide to leave their husbands for a month’s vacation. To help defray expenses, they advertise for two additional companions to join them. One is an elderly, widowed member of high society; the other a brash, young socialite who, unknowingly, is having an affair with the husband of one of the housewives.

What happens in the castle during the month of April is a story of transformation, redemption and unexpected romance.

We love this movie so much; it inspired us to begin a vacation rental home company in Florida. And when Mrs. LanceAround began to write a monthly newsletter for our business, we decided to call it “Palm Trees and Sunshine” in honor of the Enchanted April advertisement for “Wisteria and Sunshine.” (Shameless plug: You can sign up for Mrs. LanceAround’s newsletter by clicking on this link)

Frankly, when we heard that Orlando’s local theatre company,  Mad Cow, was going to do a stage production of Enchanted April, we were skeptical. Part of the power of the story lies in the exquisite gardens surrounding the castle. We did not think the story could possibly translate onto the stage.

We were wrong.

The beautifully structured script by Matthew Barber based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, perfectly captures the essence of this enchanting story. We came to appreciate that the real power of the story was not the external scenery. Rather, it was the internal transformation of the characters which was sparked by their decision to take a much needed vacation away from the dreariness that had become their existence. Once they came face to face with their need to “get away” they discovered, ironically, just how much they needed what they already had…but seemed to have lost…only to find it again!

If that last paragraph seems cryptic, it is intentional. I do not want to give away too much of the story. But I do want to intrigue you enough to encourage you to see the movie. Or, if you are lucky enough to be in Orlando between now and 14 April, I recommend you go to Mad Cow Theatre for a wonderful evening of relaxing theatre enjoyment.

Enchanted April is an ensemble piece featuring eight very competent performances under the crisp, technically precise direction of Aradhana Tiwari. However, the real star of the show turns out to be the scenic design by Douglas Huston. It is exceptional–and this was the first time I have experienced an ovation for a scenery change since I witnessed the building of the barricade in the original staging of Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center.

The production is very good but not perfect. The first act takes place in rainy, dreary London. The lighting designer decided to help portray the dreariness with subdued lighting that often has the unfortunate effect of not allowing the audience to see the faces of the actors. In addition, each change of scene is accomplished by an intricate choreography of characters adjusting the scenery and placing the props. While amusing to watch, I found myself wishing that the director had spent more time helping the actors better explore the depth of their characters rather than wasting time with unnecessarily long scene changes.

For Mrs. LanceAround and I, perhaps the real issue with the production was our unfair habit of comparing the local professional company’s performances with the award winning work of the film stars like Joan Plowright, Miranada Richardson and Josie Lawrence.  These great stars were able to discover and convey the most sublime subtext of their characters in performances worthy of the many awards and nominations they received!

Regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the movie version, you will have a great evening at the theatre enjoying Mad Cow’s production of Enchanted April. And if you’re like Mrs. LanceAround and I, after the show you might go home, put on a pot of delicious British tea and watch the movie all over again. Either way, the story of transformation and redemption is powerful and enjoyable. And the staging of Enchanted April at the Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando is well worth a trip to downtown Orlando for the well informed readers of my blog seeking “More Than A Mouse.”™

Tell Her, Teller, Tell Her

February 2, 2013
Teller Shares Trade Secrets with NumberOneEmber

Teller Shares Trade Secrets with NumberOneEmber

In just three months, NumberOneEmber will graduate from Osceola County School for the Arts with her writing endorsement. She will be going to a college to specialize in creative writing. She loves to write. She loves to tell stories.

Tonight, Amber got to meet an extraordinary, international storyteller. But this storyteller doesn’t write. He doesn’t speak. In fact, he is known for not using words of any kind. His name is Teller and he’s one half of the internationally acclaimed magic act of Penn & Teller.

When NumberOneSon bought tickets for Mrs. LanceAround, myself and NumberOneEmber to see them at the Hard Rock Cafe in the Universal Orlando Resort, we knew they would put on a fabulous magic show. What we might not have know, at least until we saw the show, is how funny they were. Yet, it was more than just that; they told stories, wonderful stories, sometimes with words (Teller may stay silent but Penn has no such inclinations) and sometimes just within their act.

It was amazing how much Teller could communicate without saying a word. One time, he gave the appearance that he was swallowing needles and you could “see” them sliding down his throat. Another time he was slicing rose pedals off a flower and the pain of the dying rose was visible in his very demeanor.

What a Great Duo

What a Great Duo

We had been under the impression that Teller never, ever spoke. (Perhaps this impression was solidified by their appearance in a West Wing episode where Penn explains to Josh Lyman that Teller “doesn’t talk.”  “Doesn’t talk or won’t talk?” asks Josh. “What’s the difference?” retorts Penn.) Well Teller does talk, sometimes. This was evident when, during one of the most hilarious moments of the show, Teller appears to whisper something into Penn’s ear that can’t be heard. After several tries, Teller suddenly says emphatically, “SHUT UP!”

At the end of the show, NumberOneEmber ran into Teller outside the theatre. He spoke with her as well. I couldn’t hear what he said as I did not press into the crowd with NumberOneEmber. But I could see he was speaking to all the eager theatre goers who surrounded him.

I only hope he shared with NumberOneEmber some wisdom that he has acquired in his almost 40 year partnership with Penn Jillette. I hope he helped her to understand that a story can be told just as powerfully without words and without voice; that it’s the essence of the story that will draw the audience in, even if they don’t hear a thing. I hope she understands that any words she writes are meaningless unless they further the story.

Of course, if they want to hear something, Penn is nearby and he’s capable of talking a lot. Yet his stories are also worth listening to. The real trick is to have just the right amount of words for the story; no more, no less.

Roger Rees Performs “What You Will”

March 10, 2012

Roger Displays His Tony Award Winning Acting Talent

Roger Rees comes out of the theatre to greet Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son, Number One Daughter and I.

He is the Tony Award winning actor of Nicholas Nickleby.  Most American audiences know him for his role as Lord John Marbury on the TV show West Wing.  I was instructed that he only had a “minute or two” and I am not permitted to take any photographs. How can I possibly get a worthwhile interview with such restrictions? He approaches me and I take a deep breath.

“Roger, I don’t like you very much,” I begin.

Roger gives a “hmmm”. He’s enough of an actor to recognize a set up.

“You see, ever since my wife saw you play Lord John Marbury on West Wing, she’s been rather smitten by you.” Roger, along with the entourage of people around us, breaks into laughter.

“Is this your lovely wife?” He asks, gesturing to Mrs. LanceAround.

“Yes,” I reply, “and this is my Number One Son and Number One Daughter.” The ice has been broken and there are handshakes all around. I’m able to begin the interview and, as I suspected, he generously gives me more than just a minute or two. “Tell me what message you have for my readers,” I ask.

Roger, who appeared tired after his hour and a half one man show, suddenly becomes more animated; his body fills with energy. “Tell them Shakespeare is nothing to be afraid of,” he begins. Visibly passionate, he talks about how he loves to teach high school and college students. “People think Shakespeare is poetry and they are not allowed in,” he laments. His vision is to allow students to “play” in Shakespeare.

Roger and Will

He points to himself as an example. When he was just 17, he was a scenic painter on a set. A director asks him if he would play a part in a play. He says, “I put down the paintbrush and never painted another set again! While the other actors were rehearsing, I was in the library looking up phrases like ‘iambic pentameter’.”

To help fulfill his vision, Roger is currently touring the world with his self created one man show, What You Will. The play is a collection of Shakespearian soliloquies and poems interspersed with personal stories and researched articles about Shakespeare.

It is at once hilarious and touching, educational yet entertaining, and Roger has the audience eating out of his hand. With impeccable timing and precise dramatic gestures he weaves disparate tales and Shakespearean monologues into a memorable evening of theatrical delight. It is not entirely a lovefest for the Bard. Interspersed within the show are numerous tales from those who dislike Shakespeare’s work; along with side splitting snippets of actual schoolwork submitted to teachers, such as the astonishing revelation that “Shakespeare was born on his birthday and wrote in the era in which he lived” and “his plays were not written by himself but by someone else named Shakespeare!”

Roger displays his talent for extemporizing. During his performance, he would often pause to take a swig of water from a bottle. At one point, a woman in the audience has a coughing fit. While continuing to speak his lines, Roger takes his water bottle over to the audience member and hands it to her as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Number One Daughter quips, “she probably won’t drink from it; instead, she’ll sell it on ebay for $200.”

At the conclusion of the performance, the audience rockets to their feet encouraging Roger to do an encore.  Whereupon he proceeds to perform the Hokie Pokie–Shakespearean style. It was hysterical. [Editor’s Note: Yes, I know the proper spelling is “Hokey Pokey”; however, being a lifelong fan of the Virginia Tech Hokies, I am compelled to spell it VT style.]

“O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke — banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about”

He then allows the audience to ask questions. One theatre goer remarks that you can tell his cultural prowess when you realize that he only knows Roger from his role in Mel Brook’s movie Robin Hood Men In Tights.  Upon hearing this, Roger walks through the aisle and gives the man a high five to the laughter of the crowd. He then speaks about working with Mel Brooks whom he refers to as the funniest man on the planet.

Roger Personalizes Their Playbill

Marty Derrow rises to tell Roger that he and his wife, Wendy, went to New York for their 10th anniversary to see his performance in Nicholas Nickleby. This ambitious show from the Royal Shakespeare Company in England is nine and a half hours long. The show was so long, the audience was given several breaks during the performance and presented with a list of nearby restaurants where they could grab a bite to eat before the next act.

Marty and Wendy have just celebrated their 40th anniversary this year. After the performance of What You Will, they wait outside the theatre to meet Roger. They ask him to autograph their original Playbill from Nicholas Nickleby. Roger borrows a pen from Mrs. LanceAround and, in a poignant gesture, insists on personalizing their playbill:

To Wendy & Marty
My dear friends
thank you
Roger Rees

Wendy & Marty Show Off Their Newly Signed Playbill

After my interview with Roger, I spend some time talking with Wendy and Marty. They tell me that Nicholas Nickleby was an astonishing piece of theatre and Roger was fantastic. There were about 25 members in the cast and each one had to perform two, three or even four or more different roles; except for Roger.  He was Nicholas Nickleby throughout the entire show.

I can’t imagine how much energy it takes to perform for over 9 hours on the Broadway stage. However, in a little over a month Roger turns 68. Based on the energy he brought to his performance of What You Will, it’s evident he has what it takes.

Athens Theatre in DeLand, FL

November 16, 2010

Historic Athens Theatre in DeLand is a Great Venue

No matter how long you explore Central Florida, you can still discover hidden treasure.

That’s what happened to us on Sunday.

We read in the paper that the Sands Theatre Company was doing a live performance of Sweeney Todd–Number One Daughter’s favorite movie. So Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son and I piled into the van with Number One Daughter and drove to the Athens Theatre in downtown DeLand.

This Theatre is Majestic

The Athens Theatre opened in 1922 as a vaudeville and silent movie house. It has recently been restored to its 1920’s grandeur with the addition of state-of-the-art rigging, lighting and sound. It is a palatial theatre with a regal feel. The theatre’s name was derived from the vision of town founder, Henry DeLand, who sought to create a city that would be the “Athens of Florida.”

A visit to the Athens Theatre website shows a fascinating photo montage of how the theatre transformed from the 1920’s into a modern 60’s movie house, then into disrepair before being restored to its original grandeur. Another extensive slide show details the loving care that went into creating a modern venue of historic significance.

This place is very special.

In addition to enjoying the old-time theatre, the production of Sweeney Todd by the Sands Theatre Company was outstanding–as good a community theatre as I’ve ever seen.

I did several Google searches while researching this post and could not find many reviews of Sweeny Todd or much information about the Athens Theatre in DeLand. But for the lucky readers of my blog, it’s a great treasure waiting to be discovered by those travelers to Central Florida seeking “more than a mouse.”™

Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival

May 29, 2010

# 1 Son Prepares to Experience the Longest Fringe Show Ever in Orlando

Guests vacationing to Central Florida read my blog because they love to discover those off-the-beaten-path treasures available to the well informed traveler seeking “more than a mouse.”™  

The really lucky ones come to Orlando during the last week of May and experience the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.  

You see, in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, you could only participate in the Edinburgh International Festival by invitation of the General Director. Several performing artists, who were snubbed, decided to produce their own works in the empty store fronts and church basements “on the fringe” of the established festival. This concept was an immediate success and the “Fringe” became more popular than the “official” festival.  

The concept of a fringe festival grew in scope and popularity across Europe, North America, Australia and Asia. It provided artists the opportunity to show their work in an uncensored and unjuried environment where 100% of the ticket sales goes directly to the performers. Fringe festivals, like the one held each year for 12 days in Orlando at the end of May, now include live theatre performances, dance, artwork that is for sale, kids fringe, food and other vendors and madness to all types and ages.  

The Orlando Fringe is the longest running US Fringe Festival.  

The mainstay of the Fringe is the live theatre shows. They range in scope from individual performers telling a story on a bare stage to elaborate productions with costumes and scenery. They can last as short as 15 minutes or as long as two hours. Some are G rated and others a definite NC-17. They can be funny, poignant, offensive, absurd and god-awful!  

When attending the Fringe, it’s a good idea to do your research; ask others what shows they liked, view websites and explore the information provided in the programming. It costs between $5 and $15 for each performance. In addition, since all the ticket money goes to the performers, attendees purchase a Fringe Button for $8 (you only need one to attend as many shows as you like.) This helps defray the administrative costs of producing a festival as large and varied as the Fringe.  

This year Number One Son decided to do the “Fringe of Nature.” This unusual concept was executed by Brian Feldman, dubbed as Orlando’s greatest living performance artist by Orlando Weekly. Typical of Brian, it was a simple, yet quirky idea. His “performance” is that he drives the audience to a State Park in a Mini Cooper, they hike 3.5 miles to a remote campsite and then he pitches a tent and they camp for the night. Only two tickets are available for each “performance.” When Number One Son attended, he was the only “audience member.”  

Number One Son really enjoyed his Fringe of Nature. Meanwhile, Number Two Son and I enjoyed a two person, hour long play that was a comedic exploration of who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare. We followed that with The Bike Trip which was one mans energetic and creative story of his attempt to retrace the steps of the first person to have invented and experienced an LSD trip. Yea, it was trippy. Number Two Son loved it.  

The following night, Mrs. LanceAround and I enjoyed Fool For a Client; an hour and a half, one man comedy sketch which was a mostly true story about a man jailed for giving false information to secure a loan to open a Ben and Jerry’s franchise.There is something for everyone at the Fringe. If you want to go this year, you better hurry. It ends on Sunday. 

If you’re planning a trip to Orlando next year, however, you might want to consider coming at the end of May and taking in a few Fringe shows. You’ll be glad you did!

Write the Next Smash Hit on Broadway

March 18, 2010

#1 Daughter Snapped This Photo of Bob Dolan Getting Ready to Tell the Audience to NOT Take Photos

Ever dream of writing a smash Broadway hit!  Now you can–by going to the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in Partnership with UCF’s PlayFest held from April 2 to 11, 2010 at the Orlando Shakes in downtown Orlando.

Well, sort of…

You see, PlayFest is a ten-day theatre event packed with dynamic new plays and new play programming for anyone who loves great theatre.  There are Readings, Workshops, special events, a Play-in-a-Day and even a world premiere!

So how does this help you write that new smash hit?

Well, here’s what I found out. 

Number One Daughter’s Montessori School went to see “All’s Well That Ends Well” at Orlando Shakes a few weeks ago.  Afterwards Patrick Flick, the director of New Play Development and PR for the Orlando Shakes, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with the students.

Patrick Flick and the Montessori Classroom

He explained that the PlayFest provides Workshops and Readings from both accomplished and novice playwrights.  At each of these events, the audience, actors and writers have a “talkback.”  These informal sessions are an opportunity for everyone to discuss and critique the work with professional and amateur theatre lovers of all ages.

Who knows, you might provide the feedback that helps the playwright further enhance the work.  You might be the difference between obscurity and a Tony Award!

At the very least, these workshops and readings will inspire and delight you.  Perhaps you’ll become motivated to begin a treatment of that story you always knew would make a fantastic piece of theatre.  Perhaps you’ll decide to get some friends together and extemporize over some scenes you’ve had mulling around your head.  Maybe you’ll discover that it’s much harder to write a play than you’ve ever imagined.  You’ll wonder if you’re up for the challenge that is faced by the playwrights who contribute to PlayFest.

One thing is certain–you will have a memorable theatre experience unlike any other.  For no one does theatre better than our friends at Orlando Shakes.

When I asked Patrick about the high caliber of theatre at Orlando Shakes, I’ll never forget his response.  Because of the major Theme Parks, the Orlando area attracts all kinds of performers.  Ambitious artists who want an opportunity to be more than just “2nd Princess on the right,” explained Patrick, “take their vacation and come to work at the Orlando Shakes.”

For a schedule of PlayFest Workshops and Readings just click on this link.  The Workshop is only $10 and Readings just $5.  Some special events are free.  And there is the much beloved annual tradition of the Play-in-a-Day.  Also don’t miss this year’s special guest, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, at 7:30 on April 10.  Tickets for this “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style interview with Orlando Shakes Artistic Director Jim Helsinger range from $25 to $100.

If you love the theatre, you do not want to miss this event.  For the lucky readers of my blog who are planning a trip to Orlando, the new play festival combined with the Florida Film Festival makes this the perfect time to come and discover so much “more than a mouse”™

For more information:
Orlando Shakespeare Theater In Partnership with UCF
PlayFest! April 2-11, 2010
The Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays
812 E. Rollins Street
Orlando, FL 32803

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Coming to Orlando

March 7, 2010

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

One of my all time favorite, Academy Award winning actors is coming to Orlando on April 10, 2010 at 7:30pm.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman will have an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” type interview with Artistic Director Jim Helsinger at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF.

Tickets for this event are $50, $75 or $100 and according to my friends at Orlando Shakes, half of them are already sold.  For more information or to order tickets call 407.447.1700 or click on this link.

Phillip became well known for his early films such as “Scent of a Woman” and “Twister” then gained international acclaim and an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in “Capote.” 

Not many people are aware of his theatre work or his work in new play development as a member of the Board of Directors for LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York.

The Orlando Shakes is located in the Loch Haven Cultural Park complex in downtown, Orlando, just a half mile east of I-4 off the Princeton Street Exit

Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF, 812 E. Rollins Street, Orlando, FL  32803

Blue Man Group

August 23, 2008

The Blue Man Group is a live theatre show at Universal Orlando Resort. The venue is a converted sound stage located between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure–The two Universal theme parks. The show consists of three “blue men”–Actors who wear blue prosthetics on their face and hands–Along with a live band. There are very few spoken words. The entire show is a visual display of dazzling special effects, mime, and audience involvement.

To attend the show, you must park in the Universal Studios parking lot (price $12 as of 2008), take the long trek through the middle of Universal’s City Walk, and pass the entrance to one of the two theme parks. Then you need to shell out big bucks (upwards of $80+ although in the interest of full disclosure Universal gave my family hospitality tickets for $30 each.) There is a small concession stand inside the theatre where you can get hot dogs, soft pretzels, popcorn, sodas and various alcoholic drinks for the usual theme park mark ups. The theatre seats approximately 1000 people. Although the show makes an effort to occasionally bring the action out to even the upper reaches of the back row, this is one show where you will benefit from getting seats that are center and as close to the front as possible. If you are very close to the front, you might want to wear a poncho. Indeed, since the first four or so rows all wore identical clear ponchos, perhaps the theatre provides them if you are going to be sitting in the “splash zone.”

Most likely you have seen the Blue Men in either commercials and/or during some TV specials. The show itself is pretty much what you would expect from these glimpses. It consists of a number of “scenes” some very short and others lasting fifteen minutes or longer. Each of these scenes involves the group interacting with something that provides either a visual spectacle, sound spectacle, humorous expressions, or a combination of all of them.

Some of the more memorable moments occur when the three blue men invite someone to the stage to enjoy a snack cake with knife and fork (no doubt a lucrative product placement with the brand clearly displayed so even the back row could see it), when the blue men walk, literally, through the chair tops of the audience, when they beat their drums spraying colored paint into the air, and when gooey, paint like substances squirt out of the centers of their chests.

My thirteen year old daughter particularly liked the lessons in how to properly respond to rock and roll music and the climatic ending when rolls and rolls of toilet paper-like streamers sprawled from the back of the theatre, helped along by the audience, to the front of the stage. She really squealed with delight when one of the blue men pulled me out of my chair and wrapped me head to foot with the toilet paper. I thought I would get one up on him by falling over backwards after being wrapped, only to discover they had outsmarted me by having another person stand behind me who caught me in my attempt to steal the show.

My number two son requested this outing to The Blue Man Group in celebration of his impending departure to begin his Sophomore year of college at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He thought the show was excellent and I enjoyed watching him and his older brother get into the swing of things during the lessons in rock and roll appreciation.

Although the show started off slowly and I was somewhat annoyed at the obvious product placement for a popular kid’s breakfast cereal and another for a snack bar (since they are not paying me I will not expose the specific brands) as well as feeling that the actors were not always as crisp and synchronized as they should have been for a highly professional show in this price range, by the end of the evening I found myself smiling broadly if not outright laughing. The show lasted approximately two hours and the time seemed to pass too quickly.

My office manager and her friend saw the show last week and were not very impressed. So perhaps it works better if you attend with youthful spirit! However, there is no question that younger kids will love the show. Although I am long past the age of having toddlers, I suspect they will enjoy it as much as they do their early morning cartoons. At $30 I felt as though I got my money’s worth–I’m not sure I would feel the same if I had paid $80.

Overall I would give Blue Man Group a hearty thumbs up. Though if you have a choice between Blue Man Group at Universal and La Nouba at Disney (The other major live theatre show in Orlando)–Go to La Nouba where you get so much more for your money. Blue Man Group will tickle your funny bone. La Nouba will make your heart soar!