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click to enlarge Moonlight After Midnight

Moonlight After Midnight

The 24th annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival was a big effin’ deal 

Time to clutch your lanyards, festival fanatics, for these will be my final words on the Fringe for 2015 ... or at least until I share some event statistics in the June edition of Culture 2 Go.

As you may have inferred from our saturation coverage in our past couple of print issues and online, the 24th annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival was a big effin' deal, bringing more than 130 productions in every imaginable genre to Loch Haven Park, and (yet again) bringing me to the brink of exhaustion.

At this writing, on the Thursday before the Fringe's Memorial Day finale, I've seen 61 unique shows and written reviews of 35. Due to an early press deadline, I had to select my top three "best of the fest" selections for last week's issue after only seeing about two dozen shows.

I must be prescient, because the trio I picked is still at the top of my list of 40-plus productions. In particular, Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle's magical-realism romance Moonlight After Midnight remains one of my favorite original plays of this Fringe or any other.

Of the nearly 30 remaining shows I covered in full-length reviews (all of which you can find at the standouts included The 11 O'Clock Number, Autobahn, Butt Kapinski, Chase & Stacey's Joyride to Eternity, Grim and Fischer, Jon Bennett: My Dad's Deaths and Tales Too Tall for Trailers.

I also greatly enjoyed Darwin vs. Rednecks, Peter n' Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel and Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, all of which were reviewed by other OW contributors.

In addition, here are mini-reviews of some of my favorite shows that we were unable to cover in depth:

Dreamscape: Our Dreams Told Through Dance
Stephanie Lilley's choreography organically evolves movement ideas and elegantly transitions between them with enthralling aesthetic unity. This is hands-down the best modern dance show I've seen at Orlando Fringe in five years; shame Viva Dance Company left after opening weekend and didn't have time to develop the audiences they deserved.

Fruit Flies Like a Banana
I spent four years in marching band struggling to walk a straight line without splitting my lip, so I have no clue how this trio can play their instruments so well while leaping around like lunatics. With 22 short pieces presented in random order, they exhibit amazing range, playing everything from delicate classical to goofy gag tunes with equal exuberance. First-rate for families and music-lovers alike.

God Is a Scottish Drag Queen 3
Is there anything more sidesplitting than Mike Delamont's drag deity schvitzing through a polyester power suit while slinging satirical arrows against dogmatic hypocrisy and Orlando humidity? Part 3 is more of the same, and at only an hour long it's never enough.

The Lion Queen and the Naked Go-Go Cub
Just as entertaining as I remembered it from a decade ago, with a handful of welcome tweaks. The show still has stellar production values, an all-star cast and sharply sloppy direction by Kenny Howard. The new legally permissible sound-alike score sounds great, and the new gratuitously nude guy can actually act, but thank god Doug Ba'aser still hasn't memorized his lines – it wouldn't be the same if he did.

Once I Laughed
In the most polished original musical I've seen so far, writer-director Donald Rupe has created a tuneful, touching (if a touch long) Andrews Sisters answer to Jersey Boys that I could see ending up in New York. Lauren Culver and Kayla Kelsay Morales are excellent as Patty and Maxene in this Central Florida Community Arts production, but Sara Catherine Barnes' sassy LaVerne brings down the house.

Rainer Hersch's Victor Borge
I only knew Victor Borge from 1980s TV ads hawking his VHS tapes, but Hersch piqued my interest in the parodic pianist by effortlessly transforming himself from a quick-witted British comic into the soft-spoken Danish superstar. Come for the re-creations of iconic skits like "phonetic punctuation," but stay for the fascinating life story.

Tell Me on a Sunday
Director Laurel Clark brilliantly transformed Andrew Lloyd Webber's slight, static song-cycle into a fully staged mini-musical, and the endlessly talented Sarah-Lee Dobbs is so appealing that you can't help falling in love with her shallow, Bechdel test-failing character.

Finally, my favorite additions to the Fringe (aside from individual shows) were the two new venues inside the Orlando Museum of Art, the extended hours at the beer tent and the fried alligator from Pete & Peg's Roadhouse Grill. If they can only whip the website's woes, attract more volunteers and arrange for weather as excellent as this year's, the 2016 festival looks set to celebrate its quarter-century in style.

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