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Plenty of exciting plays are coming to Orlando in 2018, but it looks like a relatively quiet year ahead in the theme parks



Did the ambivalent tone of last week's eulogy for the "best worst year ever" leave a bitter taste in your mouth? Let's rinse 2017 away with an optimistic look at upcoming arts and attractions I'm anticipating in the year ahead.

First and foremost on my 2018 cultural calendar is the Orlando Fringe Festival, which returns to Loch Haven on May 15-28. This year's Fest will feature fresh faces both on stage (since several perennial performers weren't selected in the lottery) and behind the scenes, under new executive director Alauna Friskics. To tide Fringe fans over until spring, this week's Winter Mini-Fest (Jan. 3-7) brings 25 artists from around the world to town for five days of award-winning encores (including top critics' picks There Ain't No More: Death of a Folksinger, Black in the Box and La Reina Yolanda) along with previously unseen productions like The Legend of White Creek by the Coldharts, Kitt Pedersen's Interstellar Elder and Mike Delamont's Husky Panda. Then on March 5, Tymisha Harris returns to her acclaimed off-Broadway role as Josephine Baker for the Fab Fringe fundraiser at Plaza Live; tickets start at $35 and go on sale to the public on Jan. 15 at

Beyond the Fringe, I'm looking forward to making amends for missing out on many productions at the mainstream venues in 2017, thanks to a strong slate of shows on the major theaters' 2018 schedules. Orlando Shakes kicks off the year this Friday with Native Gardens, a topical culture-clash comedy by Karen Zacarías, and continues in February with a stage adaptation of the audience-pleasing film Shakespeare in Love. Shakes' spring all-female Timon of Athens was sadly canceled due to budget cuts, but I'm eager to see if their fall production of In the Heights can match GOAT's superb 2015 version.

On the Broadway in Orlando front, tours of Waitress and Something Rotten are arriving at the Dr. Phillips Center in March and April with positive buzz, and Mad Cow is producing the local premiere of the Tony-winning Fun Home in June. But the show I'm most eager to see is Beth Marshall's production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Garden Theatre in February. I fell in love with the original New York version of Martin McDonagh's pitch-black comedy, and can't wait to see how Winter Garden audiences react to the graphic gore and gallows humor.

At the same time, I'm going to try to keep exploring the outskirts of Orlando theater, keeping an eye out for performers who cross the boundaries between art forms. For example, late last year I attended the Enzian premiere of Merry Christmas Headphone Jack, a microbudget feature shot in Winter Park by UCF film school alums Chris Nolte and Brandon Wane. Local writer-actor Corey Volence stars as a haggard historical guide saddled with showing bickering tourists (Chaz Krivan and Ashleigh Ann Gardner) around Park Avenue. Though flawed, the movie captures our area's "weird Florida" vibe with some inspired improvisation mocking Orlando's artificial history; I wish them luck in their 2018 film festival submissions.

Heading down I-4, 2018 is looking to be a relatively quiet year at the theme parks, sandwiched between 2017's dueling debuts of Pandora and Volcano Bay and the one-two punch of Harry Potter and Star Wars set for 2019. Universal Orlando's major new attraction for the year is Fast & Furious: Supercharged, which could soon start "technical rehearsals" ahead of its spring opening on the site of Universal Studios Florida's demolished Disaster ride. And I'm hoping that a yet-unannounced projection show will return to Hogwarts Castle this summer, based on the success of the Christmas version. But I'm most attracted to the resort's ultramodern Aventura Hotel, whose rooftop bar (the first at Universal) promises craft cocktails with a world-class view of Krakatau's volcanic eruptions when it opens in August.

From the construction of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille rides in Epcot to Skyliner gondola cables being strung above the resort, progress on major projects will accelerate across Walt Disney World in 2018. But the only significant addition that will actually get done this year is Toy Story Land, which opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios this summer. The Pixar-packed expansion's family-friendly Slinky Dog Dash looks like a fun stepping stone between the Barnstormer big-kid coasters; I'll be waiting in line for the Alien Swirling Saucers, a Little Green Men-inspired adaptation of the awesome Mater's Junkyard Jamboree spinner found in California's Cars Land. Afterwards, you might find me at the Edison, Disney Springs' long-awaited steampunk nightspot; with an immersive environment and live cabaret acts, it could provide the kind of adults-only entertainment that Disney's been missing since the Adventurers Club closed.