CULTURE TO GO 


;Old-school woodie

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;;The Starliner
;Cypress Gardens Adventure Park
;Winter Haven
;(863) 324-2111
;www.cypressgardens.com

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Florida's theme parks feature roller coasters filled with zero G-force inversions, magnetic launches and flailing yetis, yet none of those steel machines can match the organic thrill of a classic wooden coaster. Many of the legendary woodies have been mulched, but thanks to Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, one has received a welcome, if belated, resurrection.

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;In 1963, famed designer John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. built the Starliner for the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Panama City Beach's original scream machine thrilled for 40 years with 2,640 feet of track, a 65-foot first drop and a top speed of 70 mph. Florida's first e-ticket nearly vanished when the park was shuttered in 2004, but it found a champion in Kent Buescher, owner of Winter Haven's revived Cypress Gardens. Three years and $4 million later, the coaster's out-and-back layout has been exactingly reconstructed, with a bonus in the tighter turn-around.

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;At the July 6 opening ceremony, Buescher credited God with leading him to rescue Cypress Gardens and the Starliner. Unfortunately, the Lord wasn't able to keep the contractor from having to be replaced mid-relocation, or to get the new computer that replaces the original manual brakes working in time for a scuttled June 30 opening. Nor could he get the ride's state safety paperwork on schedule for the follow-up July 6 event that I drove down to attend. Thanks to still missing "accelerometer tests," we grand-opening attendees were denied an actual ride. Instead, a handful of coaster club members were "hired" for the day as temporary employees, allowing them to ride, and they reported "lots of medium floaty air and some slammers": sounds like a thumbs-up.

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;By last weekend, though, the Starliner was legal and functioning. Coaster fanatics and Winter Haven locals have cause to celebrate; the rest of us can only wish the whole thing was 20 miles closer to I-4.

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; — Seth Kubersky

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;Slam-bang

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;

Lend Me a Tenor
;
through July 22
; UCF Conservatory Theatre
; $15; (407) 823-1500
; www.theatre.ucf.edu

;;

You can tell the quality of the farce by the number of doors on-set. This 1989 retro farce by Ken Ludwig features six, each calibrated to make a satisfyingly large slam when one of the oversexed cast members runs through it. In Lend Me a Tenor, it's 1934 and the Cleveland opera house has snared famous tenor Tito Merelli (Edward Whitney) for its big fund-raiser. Mild-mannered Max (Michael Pettey) must keep him sober and celibate until curtain time, but when that fails, Max steps up on stage and fools the whole backwash city. After the show, the confused women flock to both the real star and his accidental stand-in, and that's when the doors really begin to slam.

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;Lead Max gets the most sympathy, and while he's supposed to be an excellent operatic singer, these are theater majors, not music majors, so we accept the semi-lip-syncing at those times that they have to sound like singers. Max and Tito find a real chemistry as the pair is assaulted by the semi-dressed leading lady (Madison Stratton), the wanton girlfriend (Amanda Wansa) and the affectionate fund-raiser Julia (Lindsay Turner). Impresario Saunders (Tad Ingram) runs his part at full energy, which becomes a bit burdensome, while the unctuous bellhop (Taylor Jeffers) displays the best comic timing of the night.

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;With not much happening onstage this time of year, UCF's SummerStage series gives us some lightweight entertainment that doesn't require much thought, but might make you sweat laughter. Wear light clothing, and keep yourself hydrated.

;

; — Al Pergande

;Great balls of fire

;

;Galaxy vs. Chelsea FC
;8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21
;ESPN
;www.mlsnet.com

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In January, the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team orchestrated the biggest crossing of the Atlantic since the Pilgrims by signing David Beckham to a five-year, $250 million deal. The idea was to pimp Beckham's top-flight soccer skills and made-for-media lifestyle (he's married to Posh Spice, for chrissakes) to generate NFL-type interest in MLS. Soon after the ink dried, the Big Plan started to fall apart: Mr. Fantastic found himself riding the pine at Real Madrid (his underperforming Spanish club squad) and dropped from the English National Team roster. Uh-oh. Did the Galaxy pay too much for a washed-up 32-year-old? Would People magazine still cover the games?

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;Then, in a Hollywood-scripted comeback, Beckham suddenly re-emerged on the scene, playing better than ever thanks to a new fitness coach. He led the English to several crucial victories and played a key role in Real Madrid's dramatic last-minute capture of the league championship. Now everybody is über-envious of the soccerphobic Americans. Beckham is set to debut with the Galaxy July 21 when they face off against English superstars the Chelsea Football Club.

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; — Mark Padgett

;;Local color

;

;;Third Thursdays Art Show reception
;6 p.m.-9 p.m. Thursday, July 19
;The Gallery at Metro
;Free; (407) 237-3331
;www.mymetrocity.com/gallery

;

;The other day I braved the world despite the "gut feeling" warning offered by DHS Secretary Chertoff, who would have us stay duct-taped inside all summer. I drove to Comma Gallery, barging in on overseer Karen Carasik, who had offered me a peek at the works by Comma artists to be featured at the Third Thursday show at the Gallery at Metro. The media were varied, the subjects interesting. Each piece was steeped in vitality; all of them were wonderfully executed by artists including Ken Austin and Kathy O'Meara, who are "featured" at the show.

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;Also featured in the Metro's show of locals (curated by Brad Biggs) are Michelle Valentine and Chad Pollpeter, among others, for a total of 28 artists. At Thursday's open reception, you can meet the artists and get a personal feel for how art affects the psyche. I say defy the "fear" gurgling coming from the Bush administration's gastrointestinal tracts, come out, and bring your wallet. Do we realize how lucky we are to have such artists right here?

;

; — Abbe Arenson

; arts@orlandoweekly.com

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