For this week's installment of Live Active Cultures, I'm sharing a sneak peek at a few theatrical debuts: one, a just-opened production of a show brand-new to Orlando; the second, an about-to-open return of an old favorite; the final, a foretaste of a future show that takes us back into the distant past.

Gone Missing at Mad Cow

Two weeks ago, I knew nothing whatsoever about Gone Missing, Mad Cow's season-opening musical. The title phrase alone, however, makes my grammar sphincter clench, much like its newspeak sibling "hunker down." A brief glimpse of the show at the recent Red Chair Affair piqued my curiosity, so I viewed last week's final dress rehearsal. Take this as a preview prognostication — not a formal review — but I came away impressed by the potential in this modest one-act musical.

The Civilians, a Manhattan-based experimental theater troupe, interviewed post-9/11 New Yorkers about precious things they had lost. The resulting tales were fashioned (largely verbatim) into 90 minutes of overlapping monologues and pop-pastiche songs. Stories range from the silly — a dancer (Jenny Weaver) tries to recover her cell phone; a diva (Erin Beute) goes postal over a vanished Gucci pump — to the sweetly sentimental — a child's disappeared doll (Janine Papin); a man suddenly at a loss for words (Keith Kirkwood). And a security guard's story about losing his Blackberry in the World Trade Center collapse had particular punch since I saw it on Sept. 11.

The often-tuneful musical numbers range from witty — Jonathan Lang sings a Spanish ode to "La Bodega," with hilarious translation — to obscure — Kevin Zepf's German song of heartbreak, oddly uninterpreted — though all could use a stronger connection to the narrative. The interwoven soliloquies are generally strong, though some suffer from overbroad characterizations that border on cartoonish. I most appreciated the intricate staging devised for this stage-directionless script by director Alan Bruun and choreographer Anna DeMers (a friend and collaborator of mine). Inspired by the Viewpoints' movement techniques, actors precisely pace like pedestrian Pac-Men trapped in an urban labyrinth of acting cubes and grid lines. The clockwork movements appear deceptively simple, but in the post-preview talkback cast members shared that it was the most challenging blocking they've ever attempted.

L'Ange Avec les Fleurs at the Garden Theatre

One of my favorite shows to emerge from the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival was 2002's La Putain Avec les Fleurs (The Whore With the Flowers). This charming fable about a famous French clown on an existential quest had everything you could want: literate philosophy, vaudevillian melodrama and a big dancing bear.

In the years since, the show has grown, traveling to Austin, Texas, for a well-received run and spawning a spinoff (Brick-a-Brac) at the last Orlando Fringe. The cast has gone through numerous evolutions (Cindy Pearlman and Natalie Cordone, who each played the title character in different productions, both moved to New York City, and even the name has been changed to the family-friendly L'Ange Avec les Fleurs (The Angel With the Flowers). But the original creative team of writer-director Rocky Hopson and musical director Rob Houle will still be intact when the show opens the season at the renovated Garden Theatre.

One fascinating twist to this revival is how the cast and crew plans to earn their keep during the run. Producer Beth Marshall tells me that Winter Garden's historic Edgewater Hotel has signed on as an "in-kind sponsor" of the production. In exchange for two and a half weeks of free lodging, the Ange artists will practice the ancient art of busking on nearby sidewalks. Note: Performers panhandling on the streets aren't necessarily smiled upon in homeless-hostile Orlando, but al fresco entertainers are a recognized component of cultural life in cosmopolitan cities. Here's hoping these latter-day vagabonds get the reception they deserve; after all, it's how the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil got started.

Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience at Amway Arena

Last month while visiting New York City I was intrigued by the giant 42nd Street billboard that advertised Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience, which was then playing at Madison Square Garden. So shortly after, when the invite came for a press preview (plus free cookies!) at Orlando Science Center, I pounced. This touring arena production, based on the Discovery Channel/BBC documentary, features 15 life-sized animatronic dinos in a "spectacular theatrical" edutainment extravaganza. We only got to see the stars of the show on video, followed by a brief webcast Q&A with the tour's resident director, but what little I saw suggests that these robotic reptiles far surpass those found at the local theme parks.

The show doesn't arrive in Orlando until Nov. 12-16, but I'm already looking forward to seeing schoolkids get the shit scared out of them by 30-foot-tall lizards. Now if only we can get one of them to eat the Ellen-bot in Epcot's Universe of Energy. …

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