Last week I took a backwards glance at the highlights (and lowlights) in Orlando arts and attractions from 2014. But who likes living life in the rearview mirror? Let's celebrate the New Year with some of the theater and theme park developments on the horizon that I'm most looking forward to seeing in 2015:
I sneaked a peek at a new addition to Orlando's theatrical community earlier this month by attending a "soft opening" of Queen's Head Theatre, a new strip-mall storefront stage on the northeastern edge of Winter Park. Executive director Rick Burroughs and artistic director Paxton McCaghren (who starred in David Sedaris' The SantaLand Diaries for the company's premiere production) relocated here from Pensacola, and hope to also start a cosmetology school at their new venue. Their first official show will be Steel Magnolias in late January; I'm eager to see how they handle Tracy Letts' Bug in March.
The grand opening of Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts helped end 2014 with a bang, and they've got a brilliant lineup planned for 2015. The Fairwinds Broadway Across America series continues this month with an encore of The Book of Mormon, then kicks into high gear in late January with Newsies. Even better, big names from the worlds of radio and TV are on their way, with Food Network's Alton Brown, HBO's Bill Maher, NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me and This American Life's Ira Glass on the schedule. Dr. P's lineup peaks later in the year with modern dance marvels Pilobolus and Idina "Let It Go" Menzel's solo concert.
As always, Orlando Fringe is on my must-see list for 2015, especially after seeing how competitive the recent show-selection lottery was. While some local favorites like Eric Pinder, the Downtowners and Skill Focus Burlesque ended up low on the wait list, I'm looking forward to seeing returning vets including Mike Delamonte, Chase Padgett, Wonderheads, Jem Rolls, Martin Dockery, Wanzie and T.J. Dawe. And I'm particularly excited to see Orlando Museum of Art fully enter the Fringe fold as the new Gold venue.
Other local shows on my agenda for early 2015 include Cabaret at the Abbey (with Blue Star as Sally Bowles, directed by Kenny Howard); Cornerstone Theatre's Regrets by Matt Charman, and the ninth anniversary of Jessica Pawli's Southern Fried Sundays at Will's Pub.
2015 looks to be a rebuilding year for Walt Disney World – quite literally, as major portions of Hollywood Studios will begin redevelopment into Pixar and Star Wars attractions, and construction of Animal Kingdom's AvatarLand will continue until the apocalypse. Neither of those projects will bear much fruit until 2017 or so, but Maelstrom's makeover into a Frozen flume will open in Epcot this year, as will elements of Disney Springs around the former Pleasure Island. I'm most looking forward to a drink at Trader Sam's, an East Coast cousin to Disneyland's terrific tiki bar that's being added to the Polynesian hotel, which just debuted its refurbished rainforest-free lobby.
Universal Orlando is coming off a banner year in 2014, so I don't expect any new Potter-scale additions for 2015 beyond refreshed entertainment and a walkthrough exhibit tied to the resort's 25th anniversary. Bill Paxton fans should make a New Year's resolution to bid Twister farewell sooner rather than later, if rumors are true. And I anticipate taking plenty of construction photos (always from public areas, of course) of the announced Sapphire Falls hotel and still-unacknowledged King Kong ride and water park.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have said I was looking forward to seeing SeaWorld's new Claude & Seymore sea lion show. But then word came that the mimes – a staple of the park for decades and the highlight of the old sea lion show – were pink-slipped in chain-wide layoffs that also axed Howl-o-Scream director Scott Swenson. The only thing Busch Gardens has me looking forward to is the demolition of Gwazi, Tampa's torturously rough racing woodie. They haven't announced a replacement attraction, but a pile of mulch would be an upgrade at this point.
The biggest attraction on Orlando's 2015 calendar is the opening of the Orlando Eye and the other Merlin attractions at I-Drive 360. I took a hard-hat tour of the site not long ago and was impressed with the infrastructure being installed for Madame Tussaud's wax museum and the SeaLife aquarium (which will sport a completely clear underwater tunnel to walk through), not to mention the massive observation wheel, whose outer ring was recently completed. The top of the Eye should be a good place to watch progress on the nearby Skyscraper coaster-tower at Skyplex, which is scheduled to break ground in 2015.