The auld langs are about to syne any second now, as I write this column from within 20 miles of Times Square’s signature sphere. I’m up north for the holidays to sample some art that likely will never make it down to Orlando: hyperrealist Maurizio Cattelan’s hanging retrospective at the Guggenheim, MoMA’s exhibit of Diego Rivera’s monumental murals and the revelatory film Pina (Wim Wenders’ 3-D take on the recently deceased choreographer Pina Bausch). That’s not to say everything is better in NYC; the hyped new Disney Store is chock-full of cheap princess crap, with nil for adult collectors. So raise a belated glass of bubbly with me now as I toast the best and worst of Orlando’s arts and attractions from the past year.
Best Treatment of a Classic: When the Magic Kingdom’s Enchanted Tiki Room caught fire last January, fans feared a repair of the reviled “Under New Management” show at best, or complete demolition at worst. Instead, the Imagineers restored the animatronic aviary nearly to its original 1971 glory. Finally, I don’t have to fly to Anaheim for my “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing” fix.
Worst Treatment of a Classic: I’ve had good relations with Universal’s PR department, so it pains me to point out how badly they bungled the unheralded extinction of Jaws. The YouTube video I posted of former skippers taking their last tour has gone viral, proving Bruce the shark still has boatloads of believers. By dismissively under-promoting Jaws’ closure, Universal didn’t just disrespect its fans; worse, it left money on the table.
Best New Old Attraction: After 2010’s blockbuster Potter debut, Orlando’s theme parks got the short end of the new attraction stick in 2011, especially compared to California (Little Mermaid) and Singapore (Transformers). But Disney Hollywood Studios’ radically revamped Star Tours ride took up the slack with randomized adventures, super-sharp 3-D visuals and endless in-jokes. This star-speeder simulator is so much fun, I even forgive them for including Jar Jar Binks.
Best Brian Feldman Nonperformance: Orlando’s best-known (if least-understood) performance artist gained national notoriety for his protest marriage to puppeteer Hannah Miller, which was annulled in January. But when he appeared on worldwide television beside George and Cindy at the Casey Anthony verdict, we knew Florida had finally found its Zelig. The best part of the show: Brian’s firm insistence that it wasn’t a show at all.
Best Art Project Featuring Me: It began when the Mennello Museum’s curator of education (aka my spouse) surveyed students on what image best represents Orlando. Their unanimous response: people standing in long lines. Hundreds of man-hours later, former Disney artist Thomas Thorspecken had blessed the Loch Haven institution with a life-size mural depicting dozens of Orlando’s artistic inhabitants, including poet Tod Caviness, United Arts ex-CEO Margot Knight and philanthropist Harriett Lake. And at the end of the queue, you’ll find the form of yours truly.
Best Result of the Worst Trend: My least favorite fad of 2011 – which started in 2010 and looks to continue into 2012 – was simultaneous competing productions of the same show. (Hey, producers, there really are more than 12 plays in existence!) But Greater Orlando Actors Theatre’s energetic in-the-round take on Spring Awakening, directed by Paul Castaneda, managed to do the impossible: keep me awake after sitting through Breakthrough’s version only hours earlier.
Worst Opening Night Omen: It was minutes before curtain at the debut of Broadway’s The Addams Family musical at the Bob Carr. Smoke alarms, set off by pre-show atmospheric fog effects, suddenly sent the audience streaming out the exits. After about an hour of standing in the parking lot, we were finally allowed in to see the show. And that mishap was the highlight of the evening.
Best Evidence That Age Is Only a Number: Two of my favorite 2011 performances were turned in by thespians at opposite ends of their careers. C.K. Anderson showed maturity far beyond his 14 years as a damaged dowser in the Aradhana Tiwari-directed The Diviners. And veteran stage and screen star Dennis Neal is no spring chicken, but he chewed through the marathon monologues in Terry Teachout’s wonderful but wordy Satchmo at the Waldorf with an intensity that would exhaust anyone half his age.
Worst, Worst, Worst Anything Anywhere Anytime: Danny Feedback’s Crack Rock Opera, an incompetent and overhyped (thanks to a puzzlingly positive preview from fellow OW columnist Bao Le-Huu) anti-musical about incest and stuff, made Bride of Wildenstein (my 2009 least-favorite) look like Hamlet. ’Nuff said.