Review: Terrors of the mind grip you tightly in “Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire”

Phantasmagoria VIII

“Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire” makes effect use of some classic tales of madness.


ORLANDO – Classic horror literature, in the minds of many, probably means monsters – Bram Stoker giving us the bloody-sucking terror of his vampire Dracula, or Mary Shelley creating the lumbering hulk made of fresh corpses that becomes “Frankenstein.”

Still, not all writers of long-distant eras felt they needed to invent hideous creatures of the night to scare their readers.

One of the great pleasures of watching the continuing series known as “Phantasmagoria” is their exploration of classic horror literature – tales that this talented cast recreates for their Orlando audience, often with bone-chillingly effective scares.

And now with the eighth installment of the series by actor, director and playwright John DiDonna, “Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire,” we have reminders that some of those writers of earlier centuries saw no need for monsters to be lurking in the shadows outside. Our own minds could be much scarier to confront.

Here are two examples: how much fear and anxiety can you generate from …. Teeth and wallpaper?

Quite a bit, you might be surprised to learn. Continue reading

A dark and powerful “Man of La Mancha” comes to Orlando Shakes

Man of La Mancha

Laura Hodos as Aldonza, Matt Zambrano as Sancho, and Davis Gaines as Don Quixote star in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Man of La Mancha.” (Photo by Luke Evans.)

ORLANDO – Davis Gaines cuts a truly commanding presence as Cervantes, the tax collector, playwright and dreamer in the legendary Broadway show “Man of La Mancha,” now being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, that he’s thrilling ever moment he’s on stage.

Gaines has a marvelously towering voice from the very start, when he performs the show’s classic opening title song, “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote).” For the next two hours, he beautifully balances humor, pathos and more than a bit of tragedy in his performance. He’s particularly good when matched up against the equally stunning Laura Hodos as his imaginary love, Dulcinea. The two of them could have carried on the entire show themselves and been a pure delight to watch.

This beautifully mounted production of the 1964 Broadway hit by Dale Wasserman was directed by Nick DeGruccio, and his approach made me feel like I was watching the show for the first time. In several of the past productions that I’ve seen in Central Florida, the cast and directors emphasized humor, as the befuddled dreamer Cervantes and his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza were portrayed as comedic figures whose actions verged on slapstick. Continue reading

“Life Could Be a Dream” takes a harmonious trip back to a more innocent era

Life Could Be a Dream

Andrew LeJeune, Zach Nadoiski, and Michael Scott Ross (rear) join Bert Rodriguez and Tay Anderson in the musical-comedy “Life Could Be a Dream” at The Winter park Playhouse.

WINTER PARK — When someone mentions the 1960s, most people are likely to recall a highly turbulent era, especially in the latter years.

Political assassinations, anti-war protests, and the flower child movement all rocked the nation from 1967 until the 1970s arrived, and it was a time when it felt like the nation was being torn apart.

What might no longer be remembered is that the decade didn’t start that way, and the early 1960s still felt a lot more like the 1950s. The spirit of youthful rebellion, social change and rejection of traditional norms was still years away. That was reflected in the music as well. If by the late 1960s The Rolling Stones were singing “Sympathy For The Devil,” in the early 1960s teens were still listening to Paul Anka singing “Puppy Love” and Mark Dinning crooning “Teen Angel.”

That era is captured in Roger Bean’s jukebox musical “Life Could Be a Dream,” which is set in the year 1960, in the basement of Denny Harney, a teen with ambitions to become a hit doo wop singer. Continue reading

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