I've said September is my favorite month for Orlando arts, but this October is proving strong in both quality and quantity. Last weekend alone saw 31 days' worth of openings and events squeezed into barely 31 hours. It began Thursday at City Hall's Art Legends of Orange County kickoff, where Terry Olson hosted local pioneers Texann Ivy Buck and Hal McIntosh to share stories of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival's early days. Hours later, Pine Street was packed for CityArts Factory's 6th annual Dia de los Muertos/Monster Factory event, featuring eerie arts and creepy crafts.
Friday followed with the funniest show seen yet in the Dr. Phillips Center, as Monty Python founders John Cleese and Eric Idle opened the two-night Orlando leg of their Together Again at Last ... for the Very First Time tour. Friends for 52 years, the silly septuagenarians reminisced about working with David Frost and Marty Feldman; re-created their "Bookshop" and "Memory Lesson" skits; and screened rare clips, like a "Red Riding Hood" spoof filmed for German television. You haven't lived until you've heard Idle lead a full house of sophisticates in a rousing sing-along of "Sit on My Face" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."
And we haven't even gotten to the third edition of Cole NeSmith's Creative City Project, which drew overwhelming crowds to downtown Orange Avenue on Saturday for free performances from the Orlando Ballet, Central Florida Community Arts, Cirque du Soleil and many more. The outpouring of interest in every imaginable arts genre – from Jeff Feree's musical see-saw to Joshua Glenn Wilson's ColorVox vocal video game to Mary Thompson Hunt's Conversation Campfire – made me wonder why events like this can't take over downtown on a monthly (or at least quarterly) basis.
In the midst of all that, I somehow managed to see two of the more ambitious theatrical presentations to hit Orlando in this (or any) October. Up first was opening night of Bat Boy: The Musical at the Abbey, the latest collaboration between Gen Y producer Aaron Safer and director Kenny Howard. Lovingly ripped from the long-lost pages of the trashy Weekly World News, Bat Boy turns tabloid tales of a chiropteran child into a mocking mashup of My Fair Lady, Young Frankenstein and Edward Scissorhands, with healthy dollops of Grand Guignol and incestual bestiality added for good measure.
Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming's script is funny but flimsy, with obvious plot twists, and the score by Laurence O'Keefe (composer of Gen Y's recent Heathers: The Musical) has a few killer tunes – "Hold Me, Bat Boy," "Comfort and Joy," "Three Bedroom House," "A Joyful Noise" – that are reprised a few too many times. Fortunately, Howard's all-star cast nails every nutty nuance, infusing the thin book with batty secondary business and exuberantly executing William Marchante's ballroom-burlesque choreography.
Ricky Cona is fiendishly fantastic in the title role, icky yet adorable with his opera-worthy voice and ever-twitching fingers. He's more than matched by Rebecca Fisher's powerhouse performance as his adoptive (or is she?) mother, and Jennafer Newberry as his perky semi-sister, Shelley. The cross-dressing, quick-changing ensemble, featuring David Lee and OW's own Adam McCabe, earns applause as an entire town of addled rednecks. Their dialects may be dubious, but their vocal harmonies (musical directed by John DeHaas) are delightful; too bad the hard-rocking band buried most of their lyrics on opening night. The Abbey's postage-stamp stage, which seemed adequate for Cabaret, feels claustrophobically cramped this time. But between designer Bonnie Sprung's pop-up-book backdrops, Michael Wanzie's goofy/gory props and Kyla Swanberg's costumes – which could start a riot at a Furry convention – Bat Boy will fulfill your kinky camp-fest quota in the absence of any area Rocky Horror Show stagings this season.
Speaking of horrorshow, the next night saw me at DRIP's I-Drive theater for producer Jeremy Seghers' immersive production of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess' seminal exploration of ultraviolence versus moral choice. Star Anthony Pyatt Jr. was excellent as Alex, bringing a youthful vulnerability and lighthearted looseness that Malcolm McDowell lacked in Stanley Kubrick's cinematic version; he was even able to infuse Burgess' insipid original ending (wisely excised from the film) with emotional resonance. Brett Carson also excelled as a pickled priest preaching for free will, and fight director Jason Skinner was the show's second star; his vicious violence smashed the fourth wall, thrillingly spilling into the audience.
With so many strong elements, it's a shame Seghers' innovative approach was severely undermined by the lackluster location. DRIP's awkward seating, industrial lighting and awful acoustics made me nostalgic for the bad old days when Orlando Fringe happened in abandoned storefronts. Mix in some iffy accents, overbearing vinyl-sourced background music and the text's Russian-based "nadsat" slang, and I was only able to understand the dialogue because I already knew it by heart. It's wonderful having Seghers' boundary-busting vision back in town; next time, I hope he finds a venue worthy of it.
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