Allow me to kick off my first regular installment of Live Active Cultures with a confession: I’m a geek. As much as I enjoy and appreciate the finer arts, my first love leans toward pulp and popcorn. One look at my living room – action figures behind glass, theme-park memorabilia on the walls, game controllers on the coffee table – and it’s obvious. I can’t escape my nerdcore roots, so instead I embrace them. Thankfully, Orlando is one of the best places in the world for someone with a jones for junk culture. So here’s a geek grab bag of fanboy fun you may have missed.
Bad news: You’ve missed the chance to participate in the breaking of the Guinness World Record for simultaneous yo-yoing in one place, held Jan. 26 at Heritage Square, the park outside Orange County Regional History Center. (With more than 2,000 yo-yoers on hand, it looks like they did it, but Guinness is still reviewing the tape).
Good news: You’ve still got time to see Kid Stuff: Great Toys From Our Childhood (through April 13), the charming new exhibit at the center that inspired the effort. From Erector Sets and Easy-Bake Ovens to Silly Putty and Mr. Potato Head (made of real potatoes), all your favorites are here in their vintage incarnations. The Berkshire Museum–designed displays strike a winning balance between intriguing toy trivia text and hands-on play opportunities. It’s not a huge setup, but I killed an hour between the Colorforms, Hot Wheels and ViewMasters.
Across the hall is the companion Video Stuff: Electronic Gaming Through the Years exhibit, featuring some of the old-school arcade and console games that calloused my pre-teen thumbs; it’s not on the scale of Orlando Science Center’s recently concluded Otronicon V.3, but still worth a whirl. While you’re there, don’t miss the exhibits on the upper floors that tell the unexpectedly interesting tale of our town with facts and flair.
Orlando doesn’t host a fandom gathering as massive as San Diego’s Comic-Con, but the one-two punch of January’s FX Show and March’s MegaCon is the next best thing. This was the 19th annual edition of FX, held at the Orange County Convention Center, the self-proclaimed “Coolest Show on Earth,” but the recession must have reached the realm of sci-fi, as the endless aisles of reproduction Predator armor and bootleg Star Wars Holiday Special DVDs seemed less endless than in years past. This year’s headliners included Greg Grunberg, Stephen Tobolowsky and George Takei from Heroes, who revealed genuine modesty and camaraderie (but no spoilers) in their panel discussion. Takei was particularly entertaining, recounting well-worn Star Trek anecdotes and repeatedly referring to Christian Slater as “luminous.”
More interesting, in a sociological sense, is the perennial lineup of B- through D-list genre stars ensconced behind skirted banquet tables, waiting for fans to ask for an autograph (at $20 or so a pop). There’s a high school–like hierarchy: a long, snaking line for Adam “Batman” West, a heartbreakingly modest crowd for Charles “Roger Rabbit” Fleischer and Jake Lloyd (Anakin from Phantom Menace) smoking cigarettes and discussing poli sci on the back loading dock. As always, the real stars are the hard-core fans who come to cosplay: major props to the man in the Darth Vader getup made out of LEGOs.
High School Musical: On Stage
I’m as dedicated a Disney dweeb as anyone, but one franchise in the Mouse monopoly has left me unmolested – until now. I’ve never seen the Disney Channel megahit made-for-cable musical, being 20 years and a Y-chromosome out of its target tween demographic. So I was impressed that Gramercy Theatre’s staging of High School Musical didn’t send me screaming out of the Orlando Science Center. Some hail HSM as the Grease of the millennial generation; the script is closer in quality to Grease 2, but some of the songs are catchy in the repeat-endlessly-in-your-skull sense.
Tix are pricey, but the money is up on stage in the enormous (even overstuffed) cast of talented locals, headlined by Jodi Melendez (American Idol) as good-girl Gabriella and Rachel Potter (Finding Nemo: The Musical) as drama-diva Sharpay.
Kudos to director Paul Becker for keeping me awake with athletic choreography and charming cheese – shame an iffy mic mix makes hash of many lyrics. I couldn’t quite “get my head in the game,” but your Wildcats will have little to whine about. (through Feb. 24 at Orlando Science Center; $25-$59; 407-514-2045; www.osc.org)email@example.com