Did someone order an early spring and forget to tell me? It’s not just the sunny skies that are making me do a double take at the calendar; a number of new arts opportunities are popping up like crocuses after an April shower. Not every cultural offering might be to your taste, but I like the emergence of any artistic effort as a reason for applause. So join me in an ovation to everything original – because as Hedwig observed, there’s nothing nicer than a warm hand on your opening.

Garden Theatre
of Winter Garden

The renovated Garden Theatre is gearing up for its grand reopening, so I took the short ride (about 20 minutes from downtown) to Winter Garden for the Jan. 30 soft opening. The lovingly restored ($3 million worth) historical landmark sports Spanish-tile roofs, wrought-iron balconies and a star-filled sky – and that’s all indoors. It’s quaint and classy in an Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion kind of way. General manager Alauna McMillen has lined up an impressive inaugural season (starting with Jester Theater Company’s first-rate The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, through Feb. 17), and the community has come out to support them in droves. (

The preview featured Voci Dance, my favorite local modern dance company (and not just ’cause their director is my valentine). Sadly, Voci is now a little less local. After almost eight years in downtown Orlando, they’ve left their home above the Gallery at Avalon Island – in Ford Kiene’s historic Rogers building – for the Centre for Dance & the Performing Arts in downtown Winter Garden. Previously the site of DMAC, the Rogers building should be a hub of the downtown cultural scene, but Voci’s departure joins troubling signs like the shuttering of the short-lived first-floor coffeehouse and a underwhelming exhibition at the last Third Thursdays event. Hopefully Kiene can get a handle on how his property is being managed before his rep as an arts ally vacates town too.

Hall of Mirrors

The latest installment of VarieTease, the long-running drag-show-on-steroids that I’ve plugged more than once on these pages, debuted last Wednesday in the Parliament House’s Footlight Theater. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I owe choreographer and visionary BabyBlue a debt: She was the first artist to pull a quote from one of my reviews and print it on a poster – a huge ego boost for any approval-craving critic. Hall of Mirrors remixes and recasts elements from past productions. VarieTease virgins may find that some of the references sail overhead, but as co-director Chad Lewis admits, “VarieTease isn’t supposed to make sense,” so just roll with it.

This edition ups the audio-archeology ante with deep-cut covers like a Copacabana-esque “Proud Mary,” but I particularly appreciated how they took a midshow breather from the high-energy burlesque for a brief but beautiful ballet. Is the choreography sometimes less than compelling? Are the “little girl lost” story lines starting to appear the same? Don’t know, don’t care – for me, the whole of her shows always seems to add up to more than the parts. Blue and company are hitting the road for shows in Atlanta and beyond, so catch them while you can – it’s a good bet VarieTease won’t stay Orlando’s secret for long. (through March 12;

Brief bows

• PlayFest!, Orlando Shakes’ annual celebration of fresh play scripts, kicked off last Saturday with a keynote speech from Agnes of God author John Pielmeier. I caught a reading of David Lee’s Kafka Shorts, featuring a first-rate cast (Chris Gibson, Mike Marinaccio, Daniel Cooksley, Janine Klein, Heather Leonardi) and direction by former OSF favorite Tim Williams, visiting from Vegas. I’ve also heard good buzz about The Unfortunates, Erratica and Letters to Sala. PlayFest! runs through Feb. 17, so don’t miss out; the infant play you see there might grow up and make it big, and you’ll be able to say you knew it when. (

• Looking to increase your BAC and art IQ at the same time? The Peacock Room is exhibiting A Dead Re-Animated State through Feb. 29, featuring “art, clothes, mayhem … with a strong possibility of nudity” by artist/guitarist Tramaine Dion. (

Down the road, Stardust Video & Coffee is hosting a show of colorful geometric abstracts by painter Rick Jones – check out the greenish piece we dubbed “John Deere” (through Feb. 29;

And when visiting Stardust, be sure to bring some wine corks – artist Doug Rhodehamel needs them to build the venue a new stage. I don’t know how that’s gonna work, but if Doug can turn paper bags into mushrooms, anything is possible.

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