Riding it out

IAAPA Attractions Expo

The long-awaited IKEA opening might have been the most-visible consumertainment event last week, but it wasn’t the largest by a long shot. Imagine every carnival ride, midway game and fair food known to man – all under one roof and all for free. It wasn’t just a theme-park fanboy’s wet dream; it was the reality of IAAPA, the massive annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention. With more than 27,000 attendees and eight linear miles of exhibits crammed into the half-million square feet of the Orange County Convention Center’s ginormous north and south halls, it was impossible to see everything in the two days of my exploration. I did focus my neon-dazzled eyes long enough to spot a few industry trends that may affect your amusement options in the years to come.

Big Thrills, Small Packages: Though there weren’t any big coasters on display, a vast variety of other thrill rides filled the OCCC. Some were brutally mis-engineered spin & pukes (likely Chinese knockoffs coated in lead paint), but Zamperla did it right: Their parachute drop and eye-catching Disk-O delivered fresh thrills sans pain, and their award-winning new Kang-A-Bounce packs a delightfully unexpected punch.

Animatronics for Everyone: Animated robotic characters have gone from being the sole province of Disney to being something nearly any attraction can afford. Examples included Chuck E. Cheese characters and creepy piano-playing replicants, as well as LifeFormations’ Toshiro Mifune-–esque samurai, whose post-battle panting was subtly striking. None had more charm than those from Skip Engelbrecht’s Robot Factory, supplier of adorable tricycle-riding talking monsters to schools since 1966.

Simulators Are Oversaturated: Star Tours was revolutionary 20 years ago, but today everyone has a motion simulator for sale. I sampled a top-end moving theater with wraparound 4-D effects and a covered-wagon movie ride (starring a drunken Gary Busey look-alike) that felt like it was powered by apathetic gerbils. The only novel idea I experienced was the Flyboard 5D: By leaning forward into the screen, instead of sitting back in your seat, you become more psychologically engaged with the ride.

Interactivity Is In: From retro-styled shooting galleries to Desperados (a Wild West light-gun game crossbred with a ball-busting horse-riding simulator), there’s a focus on infrared interaction. The king of the genre is still Sally Corp., which demoed next year’s Legoland Adventure darkride. But the only exhibit of a non-firearm-based application came from Myrtle Beach-based MagiQuest, whose RFID-enabled magic wands look like the perfect complement to Islands of Adventure’s new Harry Potter land. That suggestion elicited a knowing “no comment” from a company rep, so look for Universal to license (or at least rip off) this magical merchandise, and watch the galleons roll in.

Robocoaster Is Coming: Speaking of Harry Potter, my most exciting discovery of the expo was Dynamic Structures; the otherwise sterile display made reference to RoboCoaster, the cutting-edge ride system based on KUKA’s industrial robot arms. I mentioned “Project StrongArm” (rumored code name for the secretive E-Ticket being built between the Dueling Dragons and Sindbad attractions) and found myself whisked into a back room to greet project manager Sandy Kent. While he cheerfully declined to go on the record (NDA, natch), it was the strongest confirmation yet of which wizards are behind Universal’s next-generation attraction.

— Seth Kubersky

Filling the TV hole

She Loves Me

Through Dec. 23

Mad Cow Theatre

$28; 407-297-8788

The Writers Guild strike is swiftly swiping November sweeps and threatens to seriously stifle one of the last products still manufactured in America: the situation comedy. If three-camera setups and laugh tracks go extinct, I won’t shed a tear, but I’m already suffering withdrawal from The Office, which broadcast its final original episode for the foreseeable future Nov. 15. Mad Cow Theatre helps to fill that workplace romantic-comedy gap with its effervescent interpretation of the 1963 musical charmer She Loves Me.

While not as frequently revived as Fiddler on the Roof – another of composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s many collaborations – She Loves Me’s story should sound familiar. Joe Masteroff’s book is based on the Miklós László play Parfumerie (1936), the granddaddy of all occupationally oriented romcoms, so anticipate déjà vu: Entire scenes are also seen in the James Stewart/Margaret Sullavan classic The Shop Around the Corner and the quintessential Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan chick flick You’ve Got Mail.

In 1934 Budapest, Georg Nowack (David Jachin Kelly) is top salesman for perfume-shop proprietor Mr. Maraczek (Ron Schneider). His comfortable but lonely life, which revolves around a long-running anonymous amorous pen-palship, is sent spinning by his new co-worker, the ambitious and outspoken Amalia Balash (Erin Beute). The two fall deeply in hate before Nowack discovers that she is his beloved “Dear Friend.” The playout is predictable, but that doesn’t make the romantic repercussions any less entertaining.

Director Alan Bruun and designer Cindy White efficiently engineered an intimate jewel box into Mad Cow’s awkward elbow-shaped space, though actors occasionally end up belting into a corner. Said cast shines across the board, starting with Kelly’s winningly manic performance, a blend of arrogant irritability and endearing awkwardness – plus an expressive voice. In the B-story, Ward Ferguson and Angela Sapolis show off their superior pipes and comic mugging as a Lothario clerk and his lovelorn shopgirl plaything. Dennis Enos lends his warm tone and humor to sympathetic sad-sack Sipos, and Schneider (beloved as Epcot’s original Dreamfinder) is excellent as the irascible Maraczek. Just when the first act grows too long, in comes David Almeida as an operatically obsessive headwaiter, a star cameo equal to his Pirelli from last season’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. As Amalia, Beute has the proper pluck and an impressive vocal and emotional range, but her vibrato’s tendency toward shrillness robs the character of needed warmth.

This frothy confection has surprisingly acid undercurrents of infidelity, suicide and anti-consumerism. Though there’s no breakout standard in the score to rival “Sunrise, Sunset,” the songs are consistently tuneful, witty and succinct. Think of it as a tasty Thanksgiving dessert to tide you over as the tube turns to reality and reruns. — SK

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