It's an oddly traditional Orlando truism that theater doesn't travel below the 408. Strange as it seems, nearly every successful stage in town is situated to the north of the East-West Expressway. Sure, there are tourist-oriented gastro-tainment spectacles along Highway 192 (like Medieval Times), but no one attends those for scintillating performances.
A handful of exceptions that prove the rule include Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows (the site of weekly late-night comedy and a short-lived drama series) and the miserable Ben-Hur: The Musical that imploded back in '99 at the convention center. For whatever reason, if you want to see a stage show that doesn't involve a megacorporation's licensed cartoon characters, you more or less must travel above the toll road.
Someone's trying to shake up that status by bringing another live entertainment option to the International Drive area. It may be time to throw off your trepidation of the tourist corridor and take a trip to the south side.
Imre Baross, vice president and executive director of entertainment at the long-running Pirate's Dinner Adventure, told me he wanted his weeks-old Treasure Tavern spin-off to be adult-oriented but not "rude or vulgar." That's coming from a guy with a Playboy bunny chain around his neck, so your mileage may vary. But for my money, this is the best bawdy but benign blowout to come along since Disney's beloved Pleasure Island closed.
Fans of that former complex's Adventurer's Club should feel instantly at home in this club's cluttered confines, which sit adjacent to the original stunt-show attraction on Carrier Drive. While the charming "crazy crap on the walls" décor isn't as elaborately detailed as the Mouse's, the pirate booty artifacts and star-field backdrop lend a cheesy air of over-the-top opulence. The déjà vu continues as hostess Madame Gretta (a Mae West-ian—styled Roberta Patton in a banana brassiere) introduces the club's singalong credo; there's even a pair of salty sea dog puppets that protrude from a picture frame, sniping Statler and Waldorf—style at the proceedings. The ample and attractive cast clowns its way through two or so hours of audience-participation entertainment — mostly cleverly crude comedy and choreography (if unchallenging) that doesn't let up even while you're noshing.
I'm grateful to the creators of Treasure Tavern on three counts. First, for not skimping on the food, which I'd have to rank among the best I've had at any Orlando eating attraction. Chef Wania de Mattos' salad, prime rib and chocolate-almond "opera" cake are all a cut above what I've eaten at similar establishments (though the au jus was oversalted). Presentation is also absurdly elaborate, with Gretta's "Jewels" — attentive serving wenches who double as exuberant dancers — dishing out dinner while singing smirk-inducing songs like "Toss My Salad" and "You Can't Beat the Meat."
Second, I'm happy to see how many talented local performers Treasure Tavern employed. Todd Feren (formerly of Doodie Humor sketch comedy) wrote the script and leads Gretta's trio of Stooge-inspired sidekicks though fine-aged slapstick and improv stand-up skits. Other veteran comics in the cast include Ed Budd, Ali Flores, Heather Leonardi and Feren's genius goofball wife, Michele Feren. Marvelous mime Kirk Marsh (a former Fringe performer and Royal Cruise Line regular) is featured for his funnybone-jarring juggling, and omnipresent Orlando accompanist John deHaas tickles the ivories. In addition to the local thespians, the Tavern brought in out-of-town talent, including a Canadian/Bulgarian acrobat duo, a Mongolian contortionist and (best of all) a Russian quick-change couple so terrifically tacky that they're like the Mark and Lorna of magic.
Finally, I'm thankful for the complimentary bottle of champagne someone sent to my table, since the standard $50 meal package comes sans the unlimited alcohol provided by many other dining attractions. Here, you'll end up paying theme-park prices for booze ($6-$10 per drink) once your one free rum punch runs dry. They do earn points for a decent wine list without a Beringer White Zin in sight.
With a barely there plot and characters that, so far, lack the depth of the Adventurer's Club alumni, enjoying this show depends on an appreciation for the kind of cheerfully dumb vaudeville that went out of style before I was born. If you've got a nice buzz on, you'll be very glad the talented team brought this brand of double-entendre decadence back to town and that they've banned minors from the building. One visit is usually enough for me with this sort of shtick, but I'm already looking forward to returning — and bringing some firstname.lastname@example.org