No matter what the post- Thanksgiving advertising circulars might claim, Central Florida’s real Christmastime kickoff is Christmas in the Park. Since 1979, the seasonal soiree in Winter Park’s Central Park has been a big draw, and the blockbuster crowd that turned out last Thursday night (despite the un-Florida cold weather) proved this year’s 32nd edition was no exception. The major attractions are the Morse Museum’s massive Tiffany stained-glass windows, nine of which were temporarily arrayed about the large lawn and illuminated from behind. These works of art, which date from the early 1900s, were originally crafted for a New York chapel. They are interwoven with religious symbolism but are aesthetically inspiring enough to make die-hard atheists do a double-take.
Morse’s visual treats were accompanied by the dulcet tones of the Bach Festival Choir and Brass Ensemble, which delivered a concert of traditional carols and classical Christmas music, from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to “Ode to Joy.” Together, the artwork and aural entertainment attracted a massive audience to the park. Many camped out for hours before the spectacle started to get the perfect spot to spread out their elaborate picnic setups – complete with tablecloths and wineglasses. Santa and Mrs. Claus (in snazzy Victorian-style garb) had their pictures snapped with children naughty and nice, while the parents kept the cash registers in the tony Park Avenue shops jingling.
Good cheer and goodwill was everywhere around me, and after an hour, all I could think was “How long until the Yuletide turns?” My Scroogian cynicism isn’t a negative reflection on the quality of this beloved holiday event, nor is it simply Semitic sour grapes. Hanukkah arrived so early this year that I barely remembered to break out the menorah, but at least we Jews finally got a holiday play of our own, thanks to Southern Winds Theatre’s Festival of Lights at Seminole State College. (Nevermind that the cast and crew were generally gentile.)
Perhaps my heart is just two sizes too small, but since childhood, the only element of the holiday season that really sucked me in (other than those charming/creepy Rankin-Bass stop-motion TV specials) were the toys. Trips to the local Toys ‘R’ Us and thumbing through the impossibly thick Sears Wish Book catalog (remember those?) fueled my youthful consumerist fantasies. And standing near the top of my perennial wish list, right below the Star Wars toys that dominated my life from 1977 through the mid-’80s, were the comic book superheroes. From Incredible Hulk inflatable muscles to Aquaman underoos (don’t ask), I asked for it all. And apparently I wasn’t the only one: Judging by the turnout at last Friday night’s Marvelous Mayhem event at Taste, Orlando is full of fellow four-color fantasy fans who haven’t outgrown playing dress-up.
On the first Friday of each month, Draco Felis Inc., a local media and online marketing outfit, presents Friday Ferox, a potpourri of semi-scandalous art, performance and live music. December’s Marvelous Mayhem show, sponsored by A Comic Shop, sported a superheroes and villains theme that drew a full house of fellow freaks and fanboys (including actors Josh Geoghagan and Sarah Lockard and poet Tod Caviness). I paid my cover charge to Rorschach from Watchmen (“Have you got anything smaller than a 20?” he growled through his ink-stained shroud) and kicked myself for not at least wearing my Ghostbusters T-shirt for the $2 costume discount.
The art inside, if you could fight through the crowd to see it, ranged from comic-inspired Day of the Dead masks to fetishistic femme fatale centerfolds and everything in between. I especially enjoyed Elvin Cintron’s junkie Man of Steel, Philip Noto’s psychedic-pink Batgirl and Jim Cardichi pinup-style photographs. Other notable participating artists included Cake, Heidi Kneisl and Joe Pekar. Out in the front room, Brian Demeter’s poignant painting of Superman saving stranded polar bears stood watch as Evil Twin FX used body paint to transform a topless girl into the Joker.
Finally, my nicest superhero surprise of the night was reuniting with some former members of the recently dissolved AntiBabe (see last week’s “LAC”). Grotesque Burlesque, co-founded by Mary Spurlock and Kenzy Yager, performed an old-school striptease (complete with traditional tassels and feather fans) as supervillainesses Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. They were followed by a Flirtini Foxxes fashion show costumed by Shelly Richards, featuring Elektra and Rogue. Both groups featured ladies with a range of body types – from rail-thin to Rubenesque – in risque regalia that was more retro-kitch than raunchy. The audience’s rowdy reception proves Orlando still has plenty of patrons eager for a little playful perversion – especially when super-powered spandex is involved.