Best Of 1997

Best of Orlando-Culture

Best appearance by Orlando in an independent film

Coming close to matching the sleazy Chad of "In the Company of Men" is The City Beautiful as presented by writer/ director Victor Nunez in this summer's arthouse entry "Ulee's Gold." Compared to the sleepy tranquility of the film's North Florida primary locale, Nunez makes Ulee's (Peter Fonda) trek to fetch his daughter-in-law from the Sodom and Gommorah-like Orange Blossom Trail look as if the Southern Baptists just may be right about the moral degradation of the town that Mickey calls home.

Best appearance by an Orlando actor in an independent film

Most filmgoers will remember "In the Company of Men" for its brutally misogynistic Chad, who devises the scheme in which two men woo a woman for mere sport, intending from the start to simultaneously drop her like a hot rock. But one of the film's men will be immediately recognizable to those familiar with the Orlando Shakespeare Festival. Mark Rector, who next month will be quothing the raven in OSF's production of a script he co-wrote, "Poe: Deep Into That Darkness Peering," gets his fair share of screen time in the indie flick that has America's watercooler conversations heating up. (In case you're not acquainted with Rector's mug, he's the office manager who informs the ruthless Chad of his victim's hearing impairment.)

Best humiliation on film of a former Orlando Magic forward

We really wanted to catch the premiere of Shaquille O'Neal's latest stab at big-screen herodom, "Steel." Honest we did. But by the time we had showered, dressed and made it to the theater, it had already closed. And here we were, still kicking ourselves for having missed both "Kazaam" and "Microcosmos." The rest of the country seemed to share Orlando's reluctance to spend good money on Shaq's Tin-Man-on-crack impression. Before its swift and no doubt merciful death, "Steel" was on record as having earned a per-screen-average of $155. If only half those folks had bought popcorn! Guess we'll all have to wait for video on this one: Even the manager of a local second-run cinema admitted that she had passed on the opportunity to screen "Steel" for one measly week. Instead, she made a comparatively safer bet, booking the caped turkey "Batman and Robin." "No one in Orlando is gonna pay to see Shaquille O'Neal," she chuckled. Of such insight are future Zanucks made.

Best corporate merger of fantasy and reality

With its new Coronado Springs Resort -- themed after northern Mexico and the American Southwest -- Disney has hit upon a setting where its Spanish-speaking employees finally are a part of the ambience.

Best outdoor art

For being in such a beautiful locale, Orlando can seem like it has an awfully meager amount of things to offer by way of aesthetics. The city's image is typically boiled down to the Lake Eola fountain and the SunTrust building with its cap of four green, postmodern pyramids. But sights tucked away here and there are much easier on the eyes than the searing stretches of crowded highway and strip malls endemic of the town. One you might not even have noticed sits at Rosalind Avenue and Church Street, right in front of the Orange County Administration Center. "The Leaper," by Roy Shifrin, is an impressive figure in bronze, a muscular male form, blindfolded, holding outstretched wings, ready to jump into a void it can't see with an inspiring confidence that most of us could use a taste of in our day-to-day. Shifrin's inspiration for this and several other pieces was the pioneering feats of the U.S. space program. Orange County was given the statue, reportedly worth $75,000 at the time of its unveiling, by WIlliam Jovanovich, then chairman of the board of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. "The Leaper" is not only a beautiful thing to look at, but it's the equivalent of emotional underwire, giving you the little uplift you might need, and worth a side trip in your downtown journey just to check out. And its placement isn't a bad thing either; you could use an uplift of some kind when having to deal with administrative anything. (The building also has a beautiful lotus pond alongside it that will afford you a moment of serenity to ponder life, the universe and the burning question, "Why the hell can't every public structure throw something attractive in front of itself like this?")

Best indoor art

Now that we've got you all worked up with lofty dreams through Mr. Shifrin's work, allow us to knock you in the entirely opposite direction. The best indoor art is not inspiring or even attractive, but it may be what you need more: it's funny. The most lushly gorgeous indoor public art in Orlando is, bar none, in a bar. You've all passed the giant tipsy cartoon hog's head sign outside the Loaded Hog saloon (11 N. Orange Ave., Orlando). But if you haven't had the good sense to go in (and we recommend it on the weekdays when you can have some elbow room) you haven't seen the best part; on the other side of the head is the caboose. That's right, the best indoor public art is the giant hog's butt just inside the door of the Loaded Hog. Walk in, look straight up and you will see, in all its flesh-colored splendor, the biggest ass you've ever seen, directly over your head, looming larger than you ever thought an ass could, even that of your lycra-wearing neighbors in the trailer across the way. It's a tremendously fine thing, this swiney heiney, and we've often stared at it while drinking many of the fine beers the Hog has to offer and thought that a speaker should be strategically placed therein, or that one should be able to turn the little piggy tail so some prizes fall out. (We have been told by unreliable sources that during a night of revelry, confetti will shoot out of the magnificent end. But that is something you will just have to go to the Hog and see for yourself.))

Best (and most unheralded) film program

Community colleges are not supposed to have good film production programs. Luckily, nobody told that to Ralph Clemente. He leads a film program at Valencia Community College that does more than show students how to point a camera and get coffee for the star. These students make movies. Real movies. Good movies. Valencia brings in directors and producers who have viable scripts and small budgets. If the filmmaker agrees to shoot in Central Florida, Valencia provides crew and equipment. That crew consists of Valencia students who acquire invaluable work experience on a movie set. And results have been impressive. Among Valencia's best releases, the comical "Blowfish" played to packed houses at the Florida Film Festival this year (and came close to snagging the audience award). If Orlando ever reaches its goal of becoming a film production capital, Valencia's film program will have something to do with it.

Best reason for a Rogaine revolution

The shaved-head look. It was sexy on Sinead O'Connor and Patrick Stewart -- at least initially. But it's a tired trend. Guys, before you think you're cool, think Mr. Clean. Don't cut it off. Cut it out.

Best out-of-town stage production

Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach is used to bold choices. And although, like Civic Theatre, its bread-and-butter is the blue-hairs who twittered excitedly in their seats at the announcement that next summer's season of musical repertory will include the chestnuts "Camelot" and "Fiddler on the Roof," Seaside typically follow its ambitions to greater heights. (Also, unlike Civic, it imports talent and pays them a living wage.) That's what led to this past summer's staging of "The Who's Tommy." With a driving rock score and a convoluted narrative that relies as much on dance as sung dialogue to tell its tale, it is not the sort of thing one expects to encounter away from the touring circuit. But Seaside was undaunted, and grabbed the rights as one of the first regional companies to produce the spectacle. And a spectacle it was. From start to finish, this show moved. Donna Drake, a dancer in the original cast of "A Chorus Line," choreographed with such seamlessness that you couldn't tell where she stopped and director Lester Malizia stepped in. Fireworks exploded; strobe lights flashed; the curtain call, which followed the one brief lull in the second act, erupted into a dance of joyous exuberance. (Given the bold show of theatricality, it will be interesting to watch what Malizia does when he directs the Civic's staging this winter of the sweeping and ambitious "Angels in America.") Naturally, some in the 65-and-over core audience were scared off, and the most expensive show in a season where productions average $225,000 to mount didn't perform as well as the box office hoped. But the energy was infectious among those who witnessed it. "I have to go see this again," said one geezer to the missus on the way out. "It's the first time my heart beat without my pacemaker."

Best way-far-off Broadway stage for Broadway talent

The tickets weren't cheap. That's because as fund-raising functions, the events had a secondary goal: feed the hungry accounts of Civic Theatre and a local AIDS service organization. But in turning its MainStage over for intimate musical concerts, both by the touring cast of "Miss Saigon" and Orlando native (and "Phantom of the Opera" star) Davis Gaines, the Civic oversaw evenings just as memorable and heartfelt as anything the Orlando Broadway Series trooped out on the stage at Carr Performing Arts Centre.

Best sword play

About the time Disney began to hype the animated dud "Hercules" at its theme parks, Universal was hyping a much sexier Hercules and Xena powered by the muscled, real-life curves of Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless. It was a mismatch from the start --and it carried over into the merchandising. Universal's toy sword, almost twice as big as Disney's, came with a shaft that alights at the press of buttons that trigger one of two distinct sounds: shwank and clank. Of course, Universal's cost more, too -- around $20 to Disney's $14. But it's worth it.

Best hope for the Orlando International Fringe Festival

Keep it downtown. Even though construction this past spring splintered activities and made almost invisible the festival's central forum -- hidden, as it was, by construction fence and so miserably attended that some street performers canceled shows and vendors bowed out early -- downtown reflects and feeds off the festival's vibe. How bad was it this year? Set up in unfamiliar territory across from the new courthouse and doused with some cool, rainy weather, the sixth annual event of small-scale theater works drew just about 27,000 people, down from 80,000 during its 10-day run in 1996. But the sporadic artistic triumphs -- after all, the schedule of performers is filled on a first-come, first-served basis -- were no less rewarding. So before downtowners have reason to balk, and the storefronts that serve as makeshift stages become any harder to find, here's what Fringe organizers should do: Nab the owners of Casey's Subs, the Robinson Street eatery that -- unlike any other businesses in the festival's proximity -- extended its hours for the festival's run and made a killing. Drag them before the Downtown Development Board, the Downtown Orlando Partnership, City Hall -- anyone who needs to be reminded of the Fringe Festival's economic clout. The Fringe will survive is moved elsewhere. But if let out of town, the city suffers.

Sidebar:Readers Picks:

Best Place to See a Movie:

Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland

Best Place to See a Play:

Civic Theatres of Central Florida

Best Musical Performer:

Jacqueline Jones

Jacqueline Jones

Best Actor/Actress:

Becky Fisher

Becky Fisher

Best Visual Artist:

Steve Lotz

Steve Lotz

Best Storefront Art Gallery:

Timothy's Gallery, 212 Park Ave. North, Winter Park

Best Album of the Past 12 Months:

Fiona Apple, "Tidal"

Fiona Apple, "Tidal"

Best Concert of the Past 12 Months:

Tina Turner at Orlando Arena

Best Locally Staged Production:

"Saturday Morning Rocks!"

Best Cultural Festival:

Orlando International Fringe Festival

Best Art Festival:

Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival

Best Public Sculpture:

"Harvey," outside the Barnett Tower, Robinson Street and Orange Avenue

Best Local Band on "Letterman":

Seven Mary Three

Seven Mary Three

Best Museum for Spending a Sunday Afternoon:

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, 445 Park Ave. North, Winter Park

Sidebar: Best of the Orlando theater spectrum

Of course to be fair and give the rest of the artistic world a fighting chance, I have exempted my own plays and performances from consideration.

Gregory Patrick is blessed with two Best of Orlando titles:

Best One-Man Performance Art for "Revelation 13:5," and Best Shameless Self-Promotion and Messiah Complex for "My Golgotha." My Golgotha? Mr. Patrick you are not Christ. Repeat. You are not Christ.

Best One-Woman Performance Art:

Shannon Humphreys Culver in Mac Wellman's "Land of Fog and Whistles," an offering of the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

Best Improved Theatre Space:

The Acting Studio (952 S. Orange Ave., Orlando), which has gone from a stage the shape and dimensions of The Partridge Family Bus to a marvelously flexible thrust stage, and has gone from presenting peep shows with dialogue to -- "Godspell" notwithstanding -- adventuresome risks in alternative theatre.

Best Imitation of Beast by Man:

Dan McCleary's boarish, hedgehogish, spidery portrayal of the title character in last spring's Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival production of "Richard III."

Best Imitation of Beast by Woman:

A toss-up between Becky Fisher's precise imitation of the catty Bette Davis in Civic Theatre's "Me and Jezebel" and the limber Brook Hanemann as spider-monkey domanatrix Terri in the Fringe Festival's "Bondage."

Best Imitation of a Major Theatre City by a Repressive Thyroidal Cow Town:

Orlando during the spectacular theatre banquet that saw the Fringe Festival, the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, "Miss Saigon" and some 15 other theatrical options by local theatres all staged in the space of a few weeks last spring.

Best Disney Dig:

Michael Shugg's set design of a rat-faced entrance to a Vacuum Cleaner Hall of Fame in the Valencia Character Company's production of "Tourist Trap."

Best Imitation of Art Imitating Life:

Director John DiDonna's current staging of "The Iceman Cometh" at Theatre Downtown (2113 N. Orange Ave., Orlando).

Best Imitation of Art Imitating Art:

Director Chad Lewis's environmental production of a modern American art museum in "Museum," also at Theatre Downtown.

Best Nude Performance:

Clare Barry in the Fringe Festival offering by Britain's Eyewitness Theatre, "Lysistrata."

Best I-Wish-It-Were-Nude Performance:

I'm not even going there.