“Dickens by Candlelight” is an enchanting theatrical experience.

ORLANDO – In his day, Charles Dickens would act out his classic short story “A Christmas Carol” in front of family, friends and other audiences, performing all the roles himself.

Considering how many characters there are in the saga of Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him into an emotional reawakening, a theater could easily find a cast of more than 20 actors to tell the entire story.

And it might seem an odd choice to have just one actor play every role, even if, for example, the actor happens to be someone as talented as Orlando’s veteran actor/director John DiDonna, who seems more than capable of tackling Scrooge one second, Tiny Tim the next, and making both roles seem believable and engaging.

In “Dickens by Candlelight,” DiDonna plays Scrooge and a host of other roles, although he’s not alone on the stage, since he’s aided by actresses Morgan Russel and Monica Tamborello. Their goal is to bring Scrooge’s epic holiday journey to life in a way that seems fresh, invigorating, and funny. But with just three people alternating so many different characters and locations, does it work?

Before the show starts, the actors gather around a piano and lead the audience in singing Christmas carols.

As it turns out, quite magically.

To start with, Robin Olson’s adaptation of the Dickens holiday favorite has found the ideal location for this piece: the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Lake Ivanhoe. The renovated and restored home for the Orlando Ballet and the former Orlando Opera has a huge room ideally suited for this production, which dispenses with the traditional notion of audience members seated before a stage that the actors perform on. Instead, “Dickens by Candlelight” follows the much more engaging concept of having the audience seated at 10 tables decoratively set across the room, where pots of tea and plates of fresh cookies await them. There’s a huge and beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree in the front entrance, and bows hanging in the windows. And, not surprisingly, there are lit candles on every table, and you’ll be thrilled at the moment when the room falls into total darkness – save for those candles, which give the room an enchanting feeling.

It gets better, though. When you first walk into the main hallway of the Performing Arts Center, you discover a grand piano that the actors stand next to as they lead the audience in singing several Christmas carols, before taking them into the theater. Everyone gets shown to their table, and they have a few minutes to meet the people seated with them. They can also use this time to pour some hot tea and enjoy the cookies awaiting them. If some holiday productions are just about seeing the show, “Dickens by Candlelight” goes a few steps further in making it a shared experience among audience and actors alike, a festive holiday event where we sing together, dine together, and experience together the glory of Scrooge’s newfound spirit of giving.

The three actors stay engaged with the audience even after the show has started, moving from table to table, talking occasionally to the people seated there, even inviting a few audience members to act out a scene with them. All the while the tea keeps flowing and the cookies keep disappearing, and DiDonna, Russel and Tamborello keep you fascinated with their energetic, electric command of the show.

Perhaps my favorite moment: there are bells at the every table, and at one point in the show, the audience is asked to ring those bells, filling the room with that happy sound. Waiting a few seconds for the bells to stop ringing, DiDonna paused, then added, “Not bad.”

As Scrooge, DiDonna takes a highly familiar character – a cynical, cold-hearted miser who despises the notion of employees being given a day off with pay once a year, just to celebrate a silly old holiday – and makes him seem both all too human and familiar, and at the same time larger than life. His journey of self-discovery and then rebirth is exciting, funny and, happily for the season, life-affirming.  

"Dickens by Candlelight" is magical.

This 90-minute production, performed without intermission, moves so briskly that you might be surprised at how quickly it goes by. And at the very least, if this doesn’t send you right into the mood and spirit of the season, check your pulse on the way out the door. “Dickens by Candlelight” is a happy reminder of why we love this time of year: the joy of being together, celebrating the things that make us feel like a little family, even for just one night.

“Dickens by Candlelight” will be performed tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at 1111 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors and students. For tickets, call 407-409-1619.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

What’s to love during an Orlando vacation? The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show has your ticket.

Tony Brent performs The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at WonderWorks.

 ORLANDO – So what is it that tourists want to do when they flock to Central Florida for the holidays? Decisions, decisions, Rich Miller said.

In addition to the theme parks, a really good dinner show is on the list, said the Philadelphia resident who is spending two weeks in the Orlando area with his girlfriend, Jennifer Schultz.

“I think we wanted to do this last year, but didn’t,” Miller said and he stood in line for The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at WonderWorks. “There’s just so much to do down here. I think you have to do Disney first – that’s an unwritten law, I think, so we did that last year. We pack a lot in.”

Miller and Schultz have been coming to Orlando for years, and have taken in other dinner shows in this tourism Mecca – Capone’s, Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show, Medieval Times, and so on. The Magic Comedy Dinner Show has been on their to-do list as well.

“It’s supposed to be one of the best shows,” Miller said, adding that he’s been a magic lover for decades.

“I always have been – all guy-kids are magic fans,” he said.

“I’m kind of just looking for a good show,” Schultz added. “I hope it will be something different.” 

Rich Miller and Jennifer Schultz left behind Philadelphia to spent two weeks in the Orlando area, and the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show was on their list of must-see attractions.

On a cold, blustery night, a long line waited to get into the 6 o’clock dinner show, featuring the talents of Tony Brent. The row of tables inside the theater quickly filled up as an international crowd sat down for all-you-can-eat servings of salad, popcorn and pizza. Brent himself noted after the show that Florida residents tend to be vastly outnumbered by people from other parts of the country – and the world – in his audience this time of year.

“We get people from all over the world,” he said.

What brought them all to WonderWorks was a family-friendly show that combines fast magic tricks – how exactly does he take a dirty napkin and turn it into an egg? – with plenty of zippy one liners, including the opening when Brent asked the audience not to videotape any portion of the show, but added, “You’re welcome to draw a picture on your napkin.”

As Brent himself noted in the beginning, it’s a very “interactive show.”  He routinely selects members of the audience to get up on stage and help him do his thing – either a magic trick or some more comedy.  There’s plenty of improvising with each show, such as the moment when a man from the audience got on stage and told Brent he was from Indiana. When Brent asked how the weather up there and the man responded that it was cold, Brent added, “Really? Good thing you came to Florida,” to huge laughs.

The members of the audience selected to participate in the show, as it turned out, including Schultz, who had to yell out “I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” while holding a red sack. By the end of the performance, audience members young and old alike were lining up for Brent’s autograph. The high praise included kind words from Schultz, who told Brent “It was such a great show,” and Miller, who added, “Amazing stuff – amazing.”

It was another reminder of why Central Florida remains one of the top tourist destinations in the world – and why people who have already been to the Orlando area many times just keep coming back.

Shazam! Tony Brent brings Jennifer Schultz on stage as part of the show.

Who is the man who packs them into the WonderWorks show? Brent has been doing the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show since 2000, and got his start at age 12, when he discovered a passion for both magic tricks and one-liners.

“I had an ad in the local newspaper when I was 12, doing birthday parties,” he said. “I was industrious.”

The native of Holiday, Tenn., relocated to Orlando in 1999, originally to work for Walt Disney World, before gravitating to WonderWorks.

“I’ve been doing it full time for 16 years,”  he said. “And part time before that.”

So how do you effectively combine magic and comedy into one show?

“I just know what works for me,” Brent said. “I try to be similar to the movie ‘Shrek,’ that has something for everybody in it.”

The audience lined up for DVD copies of Tony Brent's show.

That includes double entendres that sometimes fly over the heads of the kids – but the adults laugh out loud.

“The kids don’t always get what I’m doing, but the parents get it,” said Brent, whose show includes skits about hippies, Sonny and Cher and ancient Egypt.

“I try to keep it very fast-paced,” he said. “Most guys drag the tricks out, but here since it’s a dinner show, you’ve got to keep their attention.”

How does he go about selecting people from the audience and figure out who will be an asset on stage?

“I certainly look for people who are smiling and seem to be enjoying the show,” Brent said. “My show is really light-hearted. It’s not a serious magic show. I look at it like a party with magic in it.”

He also makes a point of not trying to embarrass anyone he brings on stage, but to toss them right into the fun.

“I try to do it the way I would want to be treated,” he said.

He also likes to mix it up with the audience, which gives Brent plenty of opportunity to think up new jokes for each performance.

“Every show is different,” he said. “I keep it loose enough so I can improvise.”

The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show is performed nightly at 6 and 8 p.m. For reservations, call 407-351-8800.

“Snow” brings a macabre conceptual art show to Orlando, featuring puppets for grownups

The blue lighting in "Macabre Vignettes III: Snow" helps set the mood for winter in a forest.

ORLANDO – It could be just a coincidence – perhaps not – that when Halloween rolled around, temperatures remained summerlike across Central Florida.

“It was still warm out around Halloween,” said Tamara Marke-Lares.

Halloween is a significant date to her, because that’s when Tamara and her sister Leah Marke have been performing “Macabre Vignettes,” a conceptual arts show that melds together the unique talents both sisters have, including Tamara’s artwork and Leah’s dancing and choreography.

“This is the melding of puppetry and modern dance,” Tamara said, while Leah added, “For me, dance is what I do, but we’re really trying to use the dance to show her puppets.”

In the past few years, Macabre Vignettes has been performed in October, right around Halloween, to emphasis the eerie nature of the show. Set in a dark forest, there are black crows hovering above the dancers, a witch hiding in her lair with a brew steaming over a fire, and giant trolls that roam the woods. This year, though, the Marke sisters decided to alter the show a bit, by emphasizing something new and different: winter, and the cold blanketing the forest.

“In the past two years, it was done very close to Halloween,” Tamara said. “This year, it doesn’t feel creepy or eerie, but wintery – blue and snow.”

No surprise, then, that “Macabre Vignettes III” is titled “Snow,” and billed as a “Journey through a shimmering Winter World of unimaginable visisons.”

Tamara said it’s a nice coincidence that a strong cold spell, bringing temperatures down to the freezing level overnight, hit Central Florida just before the first performance on Friday. Just as the stark blue lights and snow falling from above set the perfect mood for the Snow performance at the Urban Rethink Studio, it was just as easy to glance out the window at Central Boulevard and spot pedestrians outside, all bundled up in winter jackets. That’s exactly what she was hoping for.

“I was really crossing my fingers, because it wasn’t cold out at all on Halloween,” Tamara said.

Leah said this is a winter show that doesn’t emphasize the holidays.

“It’s something to keep in mind, that this isn’t Christmas,” she said. “It’s fall and winter and snow.”

"Snow" mixes modern dance with marionettes and sculptural oddities.

This is the third year that the Marke Sisters and VOCI Dance have been performing Macabre Vignettes, which Leah said is the “umbrella name” for this evolving piece of work.

“It will always be that name,” she said. “It’s under a big umbrella that makes people feel all the elements connect.”

Tamara developed the concept, design, and artwork of the show, as well as the larger-than-life marionettes that haunt the dancers, and the costumes worn by the dancers.

Leah and Amanda Oost Bradberry did the choreography, with contributions from the dancers. The eclectic mix includes modern dance, art scultptures, ominous-looking puppets, music, and blue lights that definitely set the mood of winter – along with the snow that falls from above, letting the audience feel like they truly are in a winter wonderland.

“This is using dance as a medium to show and express,” Leah said of the hour-long show.

There are no chairs for the audience to sit on – they can stand anywhere they like inside the studio, and if they happen to get in the way of where the dancers are supposed to go, the performers gently brush them aside.  The audience gets even more involved when the witch crawls out of her hut bearing gifts — a tray filled with cupcakes which she hands out to the audience, with a cry of “Eat! Eat!”

But do they dare sample it after seeing the two rats on a skewer being roasted above her fire?

“For a lot of people, it’s seeing something like that for the first time,” Tamara said. “The crowd is definitely growing every year. They’re intrigued.”

While puppets have traditionally been thought of as entertainment for children, Tamara said this show takes them to a very different level. 

Puppets and sculptures play an important role in "Snow."

“It’s puppetry for grownups,” she said. “I think adults can walk through this. It’s mature puppetry, puppetry as art.”

In fact, the sisters said they’re hoping to tap into an emerging audience in Greater Orlando for intelligent and stimulating conceptual art.

“We’re hoping we’re part of a growth spurt,” Tamara said.

“Macabre Vignettes III: Snow” will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Urban Rethinkm 625 E. Central Boulevard. Tickets are $20 at the door.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...