ORLANDO – Over on North Orange Blossom Trail, there’s a place that seems to have it all: singers and dancers, actors and musicians, a virtually nonstop stream of entertainment.
People in Central Florida know, Michael Wanzie said, that on Saturday nights, the Parliament House is eager to entertain.
“We think we really are a little bit unique,” said Wanzie, the artistic director of The Parliament House Resort and its Footlight Theatre. “We don’t do shows four or five days a week like other theaters do, but we have a show virtually every Saturday night of the year. We’re never dark on a Saturday night.”
Although the Parliament House is perhaps best known locally as the premiere gay resort in Central Florida, Wanzie said the Footlight Theatre has definitely built up a strong crossover audience, where gay and straight audiences alike, men and women of all ages, come for the drag shows, comedy and music that Footlight as built up a reputation for.
“I love the fact that over the last couple of years, people don’t look at it as gay theater, but know that on Saturday night there will be a legitimate theatrical production,” Wanzie said.
Starting on Monday, the Parliament House will begin celebrating its 37th anniversary, and, not surprisingly, the emphasis will be on live entertainment every night of the week.
The celebration begins with the annual “Footlight Players Reunion Show” at 9 p.m. Monday, when Emcee Darcel Stevens will be joined on stage by a group of special guest stars who have been regular cast members of the Footlight Players in the past. The returning cast members — Tiffany McCray, Nazhoni, Dee Ranged, Arianna Dupree, and Leigh Shannon – will be joining the current cast members Sassy, Jazell and Shantell for the show.
The next night is Hip Hop Tuesday, with the addition of professional strippers, and then on Wednesday comes “Turn-A-Bout,” where employees from all departments of the Parliament House – bartenders included — take to the stage in drag. The show, Wanzie said, is “always highly entertaining and never fails to elicit gasps from the audience.”
It’s also being done for a good cause, since 100 percent of the admission fee and all tips earned by the all-volunteer cast benefit the Joy MCC Food Pantry.
Thursday brings Latin Night, when special guest entertainer Saphyre will perform, and then on Saturday July 28, Wanzie Presents will welcome Joshua Eads-Brown and Janine Klein to the Footlight Theatre stage in a production of the musical “Hedwig & The Angry Inch,” starting at 7:30 p.m.
Then on Sunday, July 29 comes something truly special: a look back at the history of this unique Orlando resort.
“On Sunday, the Orlando Gay History Project is bringing an exhibit on the history of the Parliament House to us,” Wanzie said. “It’s going to be on display at a new VIP area in our video bar from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.”
Started by a professor at the University of Central Florida, the Orlando Gay History Project is committed to chronicling the record of Greater Orlando’s gay and lesbian community – and without a doubt, the Parliament House has been a critical part of that story.
“It’s actually an online museum, and a few years ago they started having a tent at Lake Eola during the Gay Pride Parade,” Wanzie said. Now the exhibit, with a special focus on the Parliament House’s own unique history, is coming to the resort as well.
The P-House, as it’s known locally, has been operating as a gay resort since 1975 at 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail in downtown Orlando.
While still a popular spot with the gay community, the resort has worked to diversify its appeal by offering a restaurant, several nightclubs, and a theater that’s hosted hit shows like Wanzie’s “Ladies of Eola Heights,” and performances by well known celebrities. Today, the resort is a destination, regardless of the audience’s sexual orientation.
One of the resort’s biggest success stories to date has been “Ladies of Eola Heights,” written by Wanzie and featuring male actors playing three sisters in Orlando who reunite for their father’s funeral. The play was such a big hit that it had an extended run for months, and continued drawing in huge crowds every Saturday night – and not just from gay men. Elderly women seemed particularly drawn to the seriocomic story, and a busload of them even came down for one show from the Villages development in Lake County.
Now the Footlight Theatre is ready to rev up the entertainment once again, while also marking its anniversary – sort of.
“The Parliament House is 37 years old,” Wanzie said. “The real anniversary is October, but we always celebrate it in July, in part because we do Halloween for a whole month in October.”
The culmination of the week-long 37th Anniversary celebration will be “Return To Oz,” an Oz – as in “The Wizard of Oz” – themed-party with Oz décor and enterainment, and a costume contest offering $300 cash prizes, not to mention dancing until 3 a.m. That’s on Saturday, July 28. Guests arriving in Munchkinland are invited to “Follow the yellow brick road” to discover a wonderland inspired by the classic MGM movie. Every area of the entertainment complex will be Oz-i-fied for the occasion.
Guests are encouraged to join the celebration by dressing in Wizard of Oz-inspired costumes, and the Footlight Players will present two shows incorporating numbers from the Broadway musical “Wicked,” the movie “Wizard of Oz” and from the Broadway musical and motion picture “The Wiz.”
And that’s just this upcoming week. There’s plenty more ahead in the rest of the year.
“We’re looking to do a major musical this year, with Todd Kimbro and Blue,” Wanzie said.
Theater veterans Kimbro and Blue had a recent hit at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival in May with their musical comedy revue “Too Drunk To Fringe,” which won the Patron’s Pick choice for their venue.
“And, of course, we’ll do my annual Christmas show again, and we’ll be having a playwriting contest, asking people to submit original plays,” Wanzie said.
To learn more about the resort billed as the “Gayest Place in the World,” call 407-425-7571 or log on to http://www.parliamenthouse.com.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.