Live Active Cultures 

Seth recovers from the annual Best of Orlando party with a slight case of art overload

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There’s no better place to tie one on than Orlando Weekly’s annual Best of Orlando bash, and last Wednesday’s shindig was no exception, as hundreds of the area’s most interesting people gathered in the Beacham and the Social to drunkenly shout at each other over the din. I certainly enjoyed the open-bar event, as evidenced by my performance at the blackjack tables – I could never turn $1,000 into $12K in an hour if I were sober – and was slightly disappointed to remember in the morning that I hadn’t won actual cash (though the gift card pack was a welcome consolation prize).

After such an evening, is there any better eye-opener to clear the cobwebs than an art opening? OK, I can probably think of a couple thousand better cures, but this time I happened to find my hangover cure hanging at the Orlando Museum of Art’s August 1st Thursday event. Ironically, the first thing I spotted inside OMA’s lobby was a buffet by Maxine’s on Shine, serving the same succulent pork “wings” and caprese skewers I had overindulged in the previous evening.

I passed on the food (and declined a hair of the dog at the bar), instead heading for the 1st Thursday gallery, which featured an eclectic array of works from nearly 50 different members of ArtistsRegistry.com, Jeffrey Shonkwiler’s online artist network. The work varied so widely in form and content – from Nahila Campos’ surreal cityscape to Paris Carter’s B&W selfies to Bobbi Mastrangelo’s faux manholes – that it’s impossible to make meaningful comparisons between them, though I won’t argue with the “Best of Show” ribbon awarded to Sabrina Etheridge’s haunting portrait “Grace.”

Over in OMA’s main galleries were a couple of new-to-me exhibits, both of which consist mostly of work culled from the museum’s permanent collection (a common cost-cutter in today’s budget-conscious environment). American Landscapes gathers some gorgeous vistas along a narrow hallway but bathes them in unflattering yellowish light. Thankfully, the presentation of Contemporary American Graphics in the main hall is much more viewer-friendly. I always welcome an opportunity to see OMA’s pair of Warhol prints on display together, along with their Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, but I was most excited to rediscover a couple of oversized portraits by Vik Muniz (one cleverly hung alongside a Chuck Close fingerprint collage it clearly pays homage to), having recently streamed Muniz’s fascinating documentary Waste Land, about trash-based art in Rio’s hellish slums.

I rounded out my evening by reacquainting myself with some refurbished royalty. Michelle Knight and Andrea Canny, two of Orlando’s top musical-theater talents, turned out on OMA’s auditorium stage to sing two tunes from Disenchanted!, the Disney Princess sendup that debuted at the 2011 Fringe Festival and is returning to Orlando’s Abbey theater next month (Sept. 19 to Oct. 27) on its way to New York.

After the performance, in which Knight and Canny reprised their roles as Snow White and Ariel, I spoke with director Fiely Matias, who (along with writer-composer Dennis T. Giacino) founded the fondly remembered “Oops Guys” comedy troupe. Matias caught me up on the journey Disenchanted! (they’ve dropped the “Bitches of the Kingdom” subtitle) has taken in the last two years. Following the Patrons’ Pick-awarded Fringe run, producers Don Frantz (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) and Jonathan Pollard (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) stepped forward to prepare the show for an off-Broadway run.

Since then, the script has been extensively reworked and workshopped in community theaters and colleges from Pennsylvania to Missouri. The show has expanded to 90 minutes with a “slight book” that puts the characters in a vaudeville setting (described as “Altar Boyz with princesses”), and features new songs, sets and costumes. “The big difference is we have a budget,” laughs Matias, “where Dennis and I had no money before.” Of course, not everything has changed: “Dennis and I are still sleeping on floors in New York because until the show is actually a hit and licensed, we’re still starving artists in a sense.”

The Abbey performances will be followed by an 11-week stand at Tampa’s Straz Center, all intended to “build momentum” toward an anticipated 2014 Manhattan mounting. But the reason behind Disenchanted!’s Orlando encore is also emotional: “We wanted to come back here because this is where it started, and we wanted to share that journey with the O-town folks.”

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