Fringe Review: “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Ethel Merman”

Ethel Merman Fringe

“Everything I Need to Know I Learned From… Ethel Merman” is a musical extravaganza coming to the Orlando Fringe Festival in May.

ORLANDO – Legendary Broadway performers, after years of building up a loyal audience, have often discovered that they can build a show around something else: themselves.
After years of entertaining crowds with their renditions of classic show tunes, they finally start to open up about the lives they’ve kept secret from fans. And as gifted performers, they know how to narrate their lives — the joys, the tragedies, the heartache that caused them to struggle behind the scenes, even moments before bursting on the stage, looking radiant and ready to entertain.
And, chances are, they also know there are fans out there who idolize them, their music, and their larger than life personality. In most instances, they probably never know just how powerfully they can inspire someone.
That was the role that legendary Broadway performer Ethel Merman served for Mickey Layman, the singer, actor and comedic performer at Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows and many other Orlando theater productions. With a passion for Merman’s music and career, Layman decided to pay tribute to her with his show at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.
“Everything I Need to Know I Learned From … Ethel Merman” honors the career of the star of “Gypsy” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” the woman that Layman calls “the wisest Diva of them all,” as he sings some of her classic songs, like “You’re The Top,” “I Got Lost In His Arms,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Continue reading

Fringe Review: “Biblical Fan Fiction”

Biblical fan fiction orlando fringe

“Biblical Fan Fiction” is a spoof on the Old Testament, being performed at the Orlando Fringe festival.

ORLANDO — “Biblical Fan Fiction” is sort of like vaudeville meets a Sunday school class — or at least one that’s been taken over by some college kids who figure it would be, like, wicked funny to stick all these dirty words in the mouths of them Bible characters.
If you lead a local church and have been inclined to believe that society is abandoning the old-fashioned holy ways and instead embracing the worst that secularism offers, you might want to take your entire congregation over to see this one, so you can stand up at the end, nod, and give a hearty “I told you so.”
For the most part, though, I think “Biblical Fan Fiction” is, and was intended to be, harmless fun — although the show does convey a kind of artistic schizophrenia, a deep split between the playful and the obnoxious.
At times, it seems like the performers are not entirely sure what kind of show they wanted to present.
The show features four actors — Charlie Griffin, Christie Johnson, Joe Liorens and Lyndie Schmidt — taking on sagas from the Old Testament. The skits (written by Griffin) sometimes have the same kind of irreverent feel as Mel Brooks portraying Noah in his 1981 bad taste comedy “History of the World Part I.”
But there are also times when the show feels like it could have successfully been geared toward kids. Continue reading

Fringe Review: “La Reina Yolanda”

Orlando Fringe

“La Reina Yolanda” is a one-woman show by Leesa Castaneda being performed at the Orlando Fringe Festival.

ORLANDO – In a sense, it seems like a play about Alzheimer’s would naturally be dramatic and gripping, considering the turmoil and upheaval family members experience when a loved one gets this terrible diagnosis.
But that’s also the challenge of staging a play that deals at some point with Alzheimer’s: the subject matter scares people off. It’s depressing to think about, any one of us could go down that path, and it’s natural to want to avoid dealing with it, even in art.
So it sounds like a production dealing with Alzheimer’s would be too heavy, too downbeat, at a festival like Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, which has so many upbeat comedies to offer.
What’s so miraculous about the play “La Reina Yolanda,” written and performed by veteran actress Leesa Castaneda, is just how joyous an experience it is. A deeply moving piece, “La Reina Yolanda” chronicle the life of Yolanda, a woman born in Puerto Rico who comes to the United States as a child. She deals with a lot of hardship along the way, including an abusive first husband.
Then, when her life finally begins to settle down, and she revels in the joys that her children and then grandchildren bring to her life, she confronts an even more agonizing twist of fate, as she begins a slow battle with Alzheimer’s.
There’s even a harrowing moment when Yolanda feels like she can no longer endure her husband’s abuse, thinks she’s trapped and can’t escape, and contemplates suicide. Continue reading

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