Tosca, Grandma Party Bazaar, Appleseed Cast, 2006 Fringe Preview and more

Thursday • 20

CENTRAL FLORIDA FAIR The carnies are back! Tonight is opening night, but if you head out Friday, you'll witness the Sunburst Beauty Pageant, where you can see babies wrapped up in bows like Christmas presents. Saturday plays host to a Guinness World Record ice cream-eating contest. On Sunday, the fair makes its way into the 21st century with a Latin Festival and Hispanic Family Day, which is said to include "music, dance and culture." As usual, all-you-can-ride wristbands are available. (4 p.m. Thursday at the Central Florida Fairgrounds; continues through April 30; $10; 407-295-3247;

Friday • 21

TOSCA In describing the opera style of Puccini (Madame Butterfly, La Boheme) one writer called the composer "the Barry Manilow of his day." Puccini's "day" was the late 1800s, and the critics didn't much favor his work, but the common people ate up his stories about everyday folks caught in the throes of life and death, love and money. Orlando Opera performs Puccini's Tosca this weekend, weaving a woeful tale of tragic love between an artist and a singer at the point in history when Napoleon Bonaparte's troops were advancing into Rome. Truly, drama doesn't belong only to the ruling class. (8 p.m. Friday at Carr Performing Arts Centre; also 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; $25-$77; 407-426-1700)

NO NAME WRESTLING You've probably never heard of NNW, let alone knew that they've been on hiatus lately. (The website is well worth a visit, for sheer comedic value.) Well, in any case, they're back and ready to, uh, rumble with their Main Event Tables Match settling the score between Barney Rumble and Jason Sensation in the NNW overall championship. But wait! There's more! There's also a "semi-main event" pitting Krazy K against the returning Chasyn Rance. (Yeah, them.) But wait! There's more! Also on the card for the night are three other matches, including a tag team match and one between TNA Superstar Kenny King and Michael Patrick. Whether it's no names or weird names, it's still wrestling. (7 p.m. at Northwest Community Center, 3955 WD Judge Road; $10;

Saturday • 22

GRANDMA PARTY BAZAAR Leave it to the free-wheeling freaks behind the Grandma Party record label to celebrate Earth Day with one of their soon-to-be-legendary "bazaars." If you're wondering where the label's emphasis truly is, understand that they've now curated twice as many bazaars as they have released CDs: two of the former, one of the latter. However, we sorta like that business model. After all, what's more fun: creating marketing plans, doing publicity mailings and cold-calling radio stations, or throwing a huge bash where people show up (usually in costumes) to drink, sell their clothes and crafts (which evince some sort of indie/hippie chic we're not too sure about yet), raise money for good causes (Planned Parenthood) and listen to the bands that (may one day) release music on the label? Heck, if you want to catch up on Grandma Party "releases," you'd do better to subscribe to their ultra-kooky podcasts; if you want to get a real feel for what the collective's about, come out to their freakshow. (10 a.m.-sunset at Stardust Video & Coffee; free;

DOWNTOWN POUR More than just a chance to get plastered on the streets of our fair city, the Downtown Pour offers the rare chance to taste (and purchase) over 150 wines from such respected vineyards as Summit, Archery and Paradigm, sample food from the likes of 'Za-Bistro, Taste, Blue Bistro and Moonfish, and enjoy live music or a stroll around Lake Eola … all while getting plastered on the streets of our fair city. Kidding. It would be wrong to encourage taking advantage of the free wine tastings included in the ticket price, but the Pour is an economical way to sample wines you might never buy on blind faith, but could end up really liking. Or learn what "smoky notes" and "dry finish" really mean. Or perhaps it's a chance to finally reward that honest homeless guy whose sign says "Need money for booze." (3 p.m. at corner of Central Boulevard and Lake Eola Park; $30-$40; 407-592-6949)

APPLESEED CAST With its just-released character-centric concept album Peregrine, Appleseed Cast completes the final leg of its ambitious-artist triathlon, following its concept-record-based-on-natural-phenomena (2000's water-themed Mare Vitalis, infinitely more engaging than Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans) and separately issued double album (2001's Low Level Owl, Volumes 1 and 2). Stopping short of the theatrical extremes favored by Pink Floyd and Queensrÿche, the Lawrence, Kan.-based quartet will not recruit actors for a stage show re-enacting the album's plot. In fact, the band shrouds its story line in mystery, smothering already cryptic lyrics with swarming feedback. Scattered details emerge: Peregrine is a ghost, her family is darkly dysfunctional, and a knife likely figured in her demise, given that the weapon surfaces in five songs. The riveting instrumentation makes further divulgence irrelevant. Peregrine ranges from rural psychedelia (like a vision conjured by a cow-pasture mushroom) to eerily austere electronics to elliptical post-punk, with colossal percussion anchoring all variations. Drummer Nathan Richardson (formerly of the Casket Lottery) proves the equal of his accomplished predecessor Josh Baruth in all categories except nickname ("Cobra" trumps "Nate Jr."). Live, Appleseed Cast uses epic ebb-and-flow dynamics to lull listeners into a trancelike state, easing the absorption of its surreal imagery into their collective subconscious. (with Aloha; 9 p.m. at Will's Pub; $8-$10; 407-898-5070)

STEPHEN HARRIGAN Managing to be a Texas-centric writer without trying to be Larry McMurtry or J. Frank Dobie, Stephen Harrigan's fiction works have involved everything from dolphins to space travel, but at root, they've all been about Texas. His 2000 novel, The Gates of the Alamo, was an excellent, askew look at the state's defining moment, while his latest book, Challenger Park (from which he'll be reading at this event), takes a similar approach to the competing impulses of excitement, pride and terror that come with training for a shuttle mission. Any Texas writer who can make a story about the Alamo focus on a botanist is the kind of Texas writer we'd like to see more of. (7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 2418 E. Colonial Dr.; free; 407-894-6024)

Sunday • 23

CHICK COREA Although we were sorta hoping for a solo piano concert – both to witness Corea's mind-blowing facility and to avoid the likelihood of getting stuck watching a fuzak concert – we're not terribly disappointed that this performance will find Corea collaborating with the USF Jazz Orchestra. Corea's arranging skills have always been impressive, if obscured by his willingness to waste them on his "Elektric" band, so this show may yield some surprises. No, he probably won't be digging up "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs," but hey, we can hope, right? (7:30 p.m. at John M. Tiedtke Concert Hall, Rollins College; $30; 407-975-6469)

Monday • 24

PBR MATCHCAR SERIES All assumptions to the contrary, there's a certain amount of common ground between NASCAR hobbyists and readers of Orlando Weekly: Both love cheap beer, for example. Some folks just prefer their motor sports on a more manageable scale, which is what The Peacock Room is offering via its new, biweekly "sports" night. Patrons who spring for a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon will receive a pair of Matchbox slot cars, which they get to race, Pinewood Derby-style, down a specially erected track. Races go on all night, with every subsequent beer purchase entitling the self-styled Earnhardt to two more choices from among a fleet of 100-plus cars. Co-host Andy Gurjian promises an evening that will "make people choke with excitement" – from raffles and drawings to the playing of "other games that are also fun when you're 5 years old." Hey, how'd he know we were shotgunning PBRs before we turned 6? (9 p.m. at The Peacock Room; 407-228-0048; no cover)

2006 FRINGE PREVIEW Its annual preview night isn't always the best arbiter of what to expect at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, given that out-of-town groups are understandably hard-pressed to take part in promoting an event that's nearly a month away. But with a 2006 Fringe lineup that's overwhelmingly local anyway, this year's sampler program may be a sight more evocative than most. Video presentations of Andrea Merlyn's drag magic show and Poison Pixie Productions' "live graphic novel," 2112, represent the visitor camp as 28 indigenous groups perform three-minute excerpts of their forthcoming magnum opi. What can you learn in three minutes? More than you'd think: Veteran Fringe-goers often find that 180 seconds is plenty of time to determine if a show is going to be a must-see or poison on legs. Happy hunting! (7 p.m. at Margeson Theatre, Lowndes Shakespeare Center; $10 plus $6 Fringe button; 407-648-0077;

Tuesday • 25

RAINER MARIA It's been three years since Rainer Maria's last studio album, a near-eternity in indie-rock land, where even a band as once-omnipresent as this trio can be quickly forgotten. That is, unless they return with a record that's impossible to ignore. Even for those (like us) who have struggled to understand the appeal of this group's polished, harmony-driven sweetness, the sound of their new disc, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, is truly impressive. An astonishingly well-crafted and meticulously arranged work, Rainer Maria's improved songcraft benefits mightily from the twin production touches of Malcolm Burn's organic ethereality and Peter Katis' progressive propulsion. You could, indeed, call it a comeback. (7 p.m. at The Social; $12; 407-246-1419)

Wednesday • 26

DAVID COPPERFIELD Penn & Teller savagely deconstruct the magician's art, and David Blaine gives it a daredevil-slacker's spin. But David Copperfield isn't into all that – in fact, he doesn't seem to have noticed. This hair-sprayed Houdini just keeps on keepin' on with his lavishly produced retro-pocus illusions, while his mystified admirers clamor for more. In his latest extravaganza, "David Copperfield: An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion," the Wizard of Glitz promises to float through solid steel, shrink to the size of a shoe box and perform sleight-of-hand with a scorpion. He'll also transport a spectator to Dreamland and make 13 others vanish – although not necessarily the jerk on the cell phone seated near you. Damn! (8:30 p.m. at the Carr Performing Arts Centre; also 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27; $26.75-$59.75; 407-849-2020)

Contributors: Jay Boyar, Jason Ferguson, Andrew Miller, Steve Schneider, Lindy T. Shepherd, Nada Taha, Avery Wood

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