Live Active Cultures

Dear Orlando,

What the heck is wrong with you?

I'll begin by backtracking — by "you," I don't mean all of the City Beautiful. There are plenty of people and places around here that don't puzzle and perplex. Case in point: In payment for providing décor for my recent wedding (Live Active Cultures, May 13), I agreed to take installation artist Doug Rhodehamel on a date last Saturday. (My wife's take? Don't ask, and I won't tell.)

We started the daylong affair by stopping by the invitation-only Winter Park Crawfish Boil 2010, an annual orgy of New Orleans-style noshing hosted by Zach Stovall, an old acquaintance of Rhodehamel's. When it comes to mudbugs, these guys don't mess around. I spend a good half-hour hovering over a 16-foot-long table groaning with steaming piles of spicy crawfish, only to discover we'd barely scratched the surface of the 300-plus pounds that had been flown down from Louisiana for the occasion. ("If each `crawfish` got one frequent-flier mile, I'd be set," quipped Stovall.) These guys are so hardcore, they print up custom T-shirts and beer cups for the party and are equipped with a gas-powered blender (all the better to frappe frozen liquor). Even better than the abundant shellfish and Abita ale were the interesting local characters I encountered, including safari-clad Randal, whose nearby "Nature House" is nearly engulfed by exotic flora, and author and independent publisher Jana Waring of, "A place for people." Anyone who insists Orlando has no sense of neighborhood community has never been on this block behind Fairbanks Road.

Our curious rendezvous continued with the afternoon matinee of Star Wars: In Concert at Amway Arena; an evening show was to follow. Rhodehamel and I are both ginormous geeks who would have run off to join the Rebel Alliance as kids if we could have, so naturally we were in nerd mode. The two-hour show did a stellar job of stitching together memorable music and striking images from all six films.

The SWIC production itself was a condensation of the saga's storyline, emphasizing emotions through lines and favorite characters. The film clips shown on the super-sized high-definition screens (supplemented with LED light curtains and green lasers) were so well-edited that they made the prequel films look like they were cool. Anthony "C-3PO" Daniel's live onstage narration bridged the musical segments and brought a touch of humor and star power, but the superb live orchestra under conductor Lucas Richman's expressive direction was the real headliner. The crowd was eager for the experience and applauded the opening THX soundcheck and 20th Century Fox fanfare. I've never seen such a large crowd — a surprising proportion were second-generation geeklings — sit silently enraptured at an orchestra concert, nor have I ever heard acoustic instruments amplified with such transparency and warmth in an Orlando venue. If this is what it takes to get butts in seats for the symphony, I say, "Bring it on" — Disney's Fantasia: Live on Tour, anyone?

So we've established that I see successes all over town. Why then do I feel such fury whenever I see signals full of fail? For example, the Fairwinds Broadway Across America — Orlando series announced across-the-board discounts up to 50 percent for tickets to the touring production of Spring Awakening at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. That's wonderful news for you cheap bastards who couldn't or wouldn't pay full price for a world-class musical like this. But it's an unhealthy indication of the box-office sales for this multiple Tony Award—winner. Sadly, I don't recall similar price-slashing for the lesser and just past Xanadu, and you can bet next season's return of Wicked won't have to go the twofer route, even though both are infinitely inferior to Spring Awakening.

I've been shouting all season that Spring Awakening is the touring production we've been waiting for. If you won't listen to me, here are other notable names associated with the project who should urge you to snap up tickets before the cast takes its final Orlando bow Sunday, May 23:

Frank Wedekind — OK, the German expressionist playwright has been dead for almost 100 years, but his infamous story of adolescent erotic angst (upon which the musical is based) still speaks today.

Duncan Sheik — Forget his mid-'90s radio hit "Barely Breathing." Sheik's pop-rock score for Spring Awakening is one of the freshest and fiercest to come out this millennium.

Bill T. Jones — Instead of "jazz hands," the master modern choreographer created impactful gestures that appropriately express the characters' teenage frustrations, only bettered on Broadway by his current Afro-beat triumph Fela!

Tom Hulce — The actor-turned-producer proudly proclaims the music "give`s` a contemporary articulation and exhilaration to these confused and repressed young people, and even suggest`s` a possibility of hope unavailable to them." He was Amadeus, so he should know.

Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff — They obviously aren't in the current tour, but the stars of the Fox hit series Glee got their start in the musical's original pre-Broadway workshop. If you like the candy-coated TV show, Spring Awakening's unrepentant rawness might melt your mind.

[email protected]


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