ORLANDO – The sights are instantly familiar to anyone as being hallmarks of the Christmas season: gingerbread men, a gingerbread cottage, packages wrapped and tied in a bow, Poinsettias, and several finely decorated Christmas trees. It was a bit like stepping into a magical holiday world.
But if the sights seem designed, and guaranteed, to evoke the season for anyone who loves the nostalgia of the times, the sounds … well, seemed to be from an entirely different universe altogether.
For, just as those gingerbread men and nicely wrapped packages nestling in fake snow cry out Christmas, the disco music playing on the loudspeaker did not.
That, along with the muscular bartenders wearing no shirts and sometimes just a bikini, were an instant reminder of where the guests had landed: at the Parliament House Resort in downtown Orlando, where even the holiday season comes with a gay old twist.
On Saturday, the Parliament House hosted its annual Light Up The Courtyard, a holiday-themed party with live entertainment and drink specials. It included a parade and the arrival of Santa in Orlando – all done in the unique way that the resort’s artistic director and resident playwright, Michael Wanzie, knows how to do it.
Although the event – which brightly illuminates the resort’s courtyard with scores of holiday lights – started at 11 p.m., there was plenty of entertainment going on beforehand, starting with a performance of Wanzie’s holiday comedy show, “Wanzie’s Glittering Star-Studed A Christmas Carol” inside the resort’s Footlight Theatre.
Wanzie used the opening of the play to remind the audience about the late night party on the way.
“You’re here on the night of Light Up The Courtyard,” he announced. “Who has seen it before?”
Pretending no one in the audience had raised their hand, Wanzie joked, “It was so dazzling last year that one person turned out again.”
He also promised a grand time for those newcomers who would be attending Light Up, saying “There will be a Jewish bobbysoxer – you don’t want to miss it. There are lights and decorations, and it rivals the Osborne Family Lights,” the annual holiday show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Although this event was designed mainly for entertainment, there actually was a more serious aspect to it as well. There was one special Christmas tree in the Parliament House courtyard, with a written message next to it.
“This tree is lit in honor of World AIDS Day,” it read. “Sponsored by Belvedere Red Vodka, a portion of the proceeds from Belvedere Vodka sales benefit World AIDS Day charities.”
An accompanying note read “Come on out for the lighting of our courtyard, and drink for a cause.”
World AIDS Day is observed on Dec. 1 every year, and is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of the HIV infection.
The Parliament House Resort at 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, and is a popular spot with the gay community. It has a restaurant, several nightclubs, and a theater that’s proven to have wide crossover appeal to straight audiences as well with hit shows like “Ladies of Eola Heights” and performances by well-known celebrities.
When the property first became the Parliament House in the mid-1970s, it was known as a place gay men could go if they wanted to find sex with other men in a conservative city. Today, the resort is a destination, regardless of sexual orientation.
Their biggest success to date may have been “Ladies of Eola Heights,” written by Wanzie and featuring three men 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.
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