2012's most memorable moments in theater, thrill rides and theme parks
As December comes to a close, we culture critics are contractually obligated (by our Hypocritical Oath) to churn out Top 10 lists claiming to quantify quality across the past year. But 2012 appears to be ending on a stressful and scary note, so it's nice to take note of happier memories from the last dozen months. Instead of signing off with artificial competition or faux-comprehensiveness, I'll simply end the year by chronologically recounting 12 memorable moments I experienced in theaters and theme parks during 2012.
JAWS CLOSES: When Universal axed its iconic shark ride in early January, I was the last guest ever allowed in the Express lane. After an emotional final voyage, fans hung at the exit singing "Show Me the Way to Go Home" until security swept us out. Bye-bye, Bruce; hello, Gringotts!
LES MIZ MAKEOVER: Les Misérables was one of my youthful musical obsessions, but the last couple of traveling productions looked old and tired. For the recent 25th anniversary tour, directors Laurence Connor and James Powell reinvigorated the staging with energetic urgency, reviving my love for the show.
LAMBORGHINI LAPS: I drive a Honda Fit, so it's no surprise I was too liability-adverse to exceed 90 mph when Walt Disney World's Exotic Driving Experience put me behind the wheel of a $220K Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. Once I slid over to the passenger seat, my instructor hit 115, besting Hersheypark's Skyrush coaster without the ball-busting.
FELDMAN'S FAREWELL: Orlando's perpetually perplexing artist Brian Feldman exited to Washington, D.C., but he bowed out in brilliantly bizarre style with an ArtsFest revival of his performance piece Under the Covers. I'll never forget watching Feldman writhe under an airport-hotel bedsheet while singing a Sherman Brothers medley. Seriously, never.
PROP 8 WEDDING: In response to California's constitutionally challenged anti-gay initiative, producer Beth Marshall assembled an all-star local cast to re-enact the dramatic legal transcripts. But nothing on stage was as emotional as the epilogue, when former Orlando artists Chad Lewis and Jason Donnelly were wed by a vestment-clad Michael Wanzie.
AVENGERS OPENING: The comic-geek highlight of my year was getting to dust off my emcee skills to host the April Orlando premiere of Joss Whedon's The Avengers. An hour of tap-dancing with trivia and costume contests in front of a full house was more challenging than I bargained for, but seeing the superhero epic weeks before the public was well worth it.
ECOPARK ZIPLINE: Last year I survived several new scream machines, such as the spectacular spin-and-pukes on display at IAAPA. But none took my breath away like the insane Zipline roller coaster installed last spring at Forever Florida's EcoSafari. If wildly swinging through the hairpin turns doesn't get your blood racing, the final fall over a gator-friendly pond will.
BIG NAZO AT FRINGE: The Orlando Fringe Festival hit it out of Loch Haven Park last May under new producer Michael Marinaccio, with first-rate shows and record-breaking ticket sales. For me, nothing beat stage-managing Big Nazo, the troupe of outsized intergalactic puppet-monsters that made mirth at Kids Fringe and invaded the festival lawn.
TRANSFORMERS & CARS LAND: 2012 was a transitional year at Orlando's attractions, but California debuted dueling blockbusters. Cars Land at Disneyland's rebuilt California Adventure Park proved the most immersive environment outside of the Wizarding World, while Universal Studios Hollywood's Transformers ride (arriving here next summer) sets a new standard for 3-D thrills.
URBAN RETHINK'S COLLIDE*SCOPE: In the August edition of the monthly meet-up, Thornton Park's Urban ReThink invited an artist (Jeremy Seghers), an academic (James Jessup), an activist (Michael Dippy) and a politician (Bill Segal) to imagine a high-tech way of helping the homeless. The resulting conversation was contentious, thought-provoking and just what Orlando needs more of.
MAD COW MOVES: While I've quibbled with some of its individual offerings over the years, Mad Cow Theatre has consistently produced shows whose quality outstripped its humble facilities. After endless wrangling, the herd has finally moved into a beautiful new barn – a fitting setting for the sparkling Sondheim they christened Church Street with.
LABYRINTH LIVE: I grew up adoring anything by Jim Henson, especially his eccentric David Bowie musical fantasy film, Labyrinth. Getting to direct a live audience-participation production of the film with Ibex Puppetry's Heather Henson – and performing it to a sold-out crowd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music – wasn't just the peak of my year: It was a childhood dream come true.