That's entertainment
Amy Steinberg
6 p.m. Sunday, July 15
The Parliament House
$10; (407) 425-7571

The Wanzie-coded promotion for Amy Steinberg's June 24 date at the Parliament House sold the show as a last chance to see her before she headed back to the hills of North Carolina — but that turned out to be a bit of show-biz dazzle. Though that intimate, cabaret-style production did sell out, just as Steinberg's gig during Gay Days did, lingering fans from her hard-partying Orlando club days and her self-enlightened theater shows that followed, take note: She's not gone … yet.

True, Steinberg now lives in Boone, N.C., and loves it, even as she still considers Orlando home, and a summer circuit in Florida landed her here. Still, she's squeezing in one last date: a big birthday show backed by a band on the big stage at P-House, where she'll perform songs off her upcoming album, her fifth full release (coming this fall, tentatively titled Fall Down to Fly), as well as favorites.

But Steinberg is never just about music. As she eternally explains, "I'm an entertainer." One that willingly cites her sources: Janis Joplin (the blues), Bette Midler (the chutzpah), Ani DiFranco (the lyrical strength) and Alanis Morissette (the belt). Even though the 30-something is a year older, her shows haven't matured: She still tells dirty jokes and stories, uses shocking words and captivates the audience with her charisma. If you can't catch her at this early show, she'll be back in the fall touting the new CD.

— Lindy T. Shepherd

Floozy season again
Chelsea Lately
Premieres 11:30 p.m. Monday, July 16
E! network

As much as we appreciate Kathy Griffin, we think her celebrity-skewering act is undercut by her blatant yearning to be accepted into their exalted ranks. Not so Chelsea Handler, the comedienne and self-professed tramp whose new series on the E! network seems a logical outlet for a woman who is congenitally unable to kiss ass.

The program, a live, half-hour response to the Hollywood news of the moment, was by definition unavailable for preview. But if Handler's last E! foray, The Chelsea Handler Show, was even close to a representative warm-up, expect quite the treat. In that sketch-based series, Handler met the world with a flat, sullen stare that put her midway between bewilderment and belligerence. She heaped hilarious scorn on a society that had somehow managed to outdo even her own vacant narcissism and predilection for booze-fueled promiscuity.

Yeah, yeah, we know: Candace Bushnell loosed a whole fleet of these exhibitionist party girls on the world. But Handler's act is immeasurably funnier, proving that a woman who is totally and genuinely hot can play the simultaneous roles of pathetic buffoon and indignant inquisitor. (Or maybe it's just that playing both of those roles makes her totally hot.) Obviously, we expect the inquisitor schtick to predominate in Chelsea Lately, though we hope she saves some room for the lunatic introspection that sparked her book, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, and the forthcoming follow-up, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. Because no one can crucify Lindsay Lohan like a prosecutor who's already downed a few cocktails herself.

— Steve Schneider

Subtle wizardry
Through July 29
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
$10; (407) 447-1700

In 1899 Chicago, author L. Frank Baum — portrayed in this Orlando Shakespeare Festival production by Brandon Roberts — is putting the finishing touches on his children's fantasy book; all he needs is a title. And a name for the main character. And an ending. In blows a cyclone in the form of Dot (Lexi Langs), a precocious firebug and self-confessed housebreaker looking to burgle Baum's parlor (a "lovely" bric-a-brac—laden jewel box created by set designer Robbin Watts). Dot gets sucked into Baum's whirlwind telling of his tale, as he and his stiff-collared maid, Bridgey (Melissa Mason), turn the clutter of his office into a cast of fairy-tale characters. By the end, Dot has learned that there's no place like home, and Baum has a name for his titular wizard, inspired by a label on his library shelf: "O-Z."

The true story behind Oz has enough layers to satisfy both adults and children: Baum's marriage to the daughter of a famous suffragist; his early efforts to produce both poultry and theater; the book's much-debated references to monetary policy and populist politics. Unfortunately, Patrick Shanahan's script is aimed straight at the under-age-7 set and suffers from the same fault as the moribund musical Wicked: It slights the source material in order to better conform to the omnipresent 1939 film adaptation. A few of the book's charming quirks survive — the Tin Woodsman's gruesome origin, Dorothy's cheerful exploitation of the winged monkeys — but most others are swept aside in favor of those damn Technicolor ruby slippers.

Patrick Flick's direction forestalls napping with a sprightly pace, until a needless intermission (nearly as long as the stubby second act) stops things dead. The smoke and light tricks by Amy Hadley draw "aahs" from munchkins in the audience, but the real special effect is Roberts' mercurial performance as Baum. In SPORT and The Stone Face, Roberts showed his facility with silent slapstick; here, his vocal versatility is the draw for adults. The supporting cast doesn't quite ease on down the road: Langs suffers the child-actor curse of competent but overcoached line readings, and Mason is equally incomprehensible with an Irish brogue.

Though it adds nothing new to the legend, the show offers enough to captivate the kids, and you even get souvenir emerald spectacles (generously provided by Borders, who coincidentally would like to sell you a copy of the new Harry Potter book). Perhaps this Oz is best used as an opportunity to teach your kids about the world of public domain, which makes such scripts possible. Sadly, thanks to Disney's copyright-extending pals in Congress, future generations of playwrights won't have the right to repurpose latter-day Baums like J.K. Rowling.

— Seth Kubersky


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