;The Lion King

;; The prodigal son returns, redeeming his decayed spiritual homeland, and the natives sing in gratitude. That's not just the plot of Disney's The Lion King; it's a metaphor for the effect this blockbuster's arrival has had on the Carr Performing Arts Centre, where it resides through Jan. 14. The show's signature opening parade of animal-puppets, a transformative moment in any venue, has worked a minor miracle on the little-loved Carr venue: By carving much-needed aisles through the orchestra, the theater is transformed into a reason to question the urgency of a new performing arts center (at least the Centroplex has some parking).

;; I never got around to seeing the Broadway production (I was burned by Aida), but the aforementioned magical overture won over my cynicism. The Hamlet/Bambi pastiche storyline isn't particularly original (cough, Kimba the White Lion, cough), and the Elton John music is overexposed — the best songs in the show are lifted from Hans Zimmer and Lebo M.'s Rhythm of the Pride Lands spin-off album. The Lion King triumphs on director Julie Taymor's superb sense of style and stagecraft, and the charisma of the cast. Standouts include Phindile Mkhize's piercingly soulful Rafiki, Dan Donohue's fang-in-cheek Scar and John Plumpis as a Yiddish (and inexplicably green) Timon.


; While I confess to feeling a lump in my throat once or twice, some of the drama veers uncomfortably close to camp: There's an H.R. Pufnstuf-on-mescaline production number, and Scar has a team of Nazi-stripper/Solid Gold dancers. Still, the off notes are drowned out by the glorious African chanting and Michael Curry's justifiably lauded puppets.


; A good seat is essential to fully appreciate this spectacle, and it'll cost you more than a day at a Disney park. For the same price as a two-and-a-half-hour show, you could spend eight hours at Animal Kingdom, including the superb new Finding Nemo musical and the Festival of the Lion King show (which is dumbed down but will hold kids' attention better than the full-length production). (8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 14 at Carr Performing Arts Centre; $56-$76; 407-849-2020)


;— Seth Kubersky


;;The Hunt for Valhalla

;;by Nikolas Falcon (AuthorHouse, 371 pages)

;; Though I'm late to the game, Florida mystery novels are a recent preoccupation — I love the local lore that colors the scenery, and differentiating the many writers' voices is my newfound quirk. On a recent getaway, the second and latest novel by Monticello-based writer Nikolas Falcon accompanied me, but I sniffed about its worthiness. Printed by AuthorHouse, a self-publishing company, the book was riddled with typos and odd punctuation, but that didn't keep me from turning the pages.


; The compelling story married corporate greed and scary science with romance aboard luxury yachts in the sparkling Caribbean. Sex and violence, hard drinking and hard loving filled the lengthy novel, with detective Harley Proffit at the helm but not dominating the proceedings. The mature veteran Proffit character is obviously Falcon's alter ego; a native Floridian who now lives in Montverde, Falcon claims in the book's brief bio that he was privy for years to the inside of the U.S. intelligence community. The author's solid comfort with his subject matter translated into an interesting piece of fiction available at mainstream booksellers.


;— Lindy T. Shepherd

;;Funniest Commercials of the ;Year: 2006

;; For the third year, TBS televises its Funniest Commercials of the Year special, hosted by Kevin Nealon, whose smoking character on Weeds has kept him from a dated Saturday Night Live relevance. Watching a provided disc of the top 10 contenders, our pick for the winner is "The Tea Partay" music video by Prep-Unit from the folks at Smirnoff to carry the at-the-end tag of "Drink responsibly."

;; In this catchy flash of entertainment, New England white-collar gangstas rap about their life in the stiff lane, coming back to the refrain, "Tea in the parlor makes the ladies holler." (Download the commercial at With more than 50 spots from the U.S. and around the world included, the show should make for a fast-moving hour and a couple of laughs. (9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27, on TBS;


;— Lindy T. Shepherd


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