2019 Arts & Entertainment Season Preview

In honor of the Orlando Science Center’s upcoming Pompeii exhibit, we drafted a roving Roman as a tour guide to the 2019-2020 arts season. A tribute to an ancient city that was frozen in time highlights a red-hot Central Florida cultural season. Fear not: We’re here with our arts season guide to keep you grounded.


Resurrected Ruins


No city ever paid more dearly for fame than Pompeii, a bustling Roman metropolis one day and a lifeless time capsule the next. Half of its 20,000 residents were buried under layers of ash that would preserve them like insects in amber, along with their dwellings and possessions, when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. That ancient catastrophe will be retold at the Orlando Science Center in Pompeii: The Immortal City, a touring exhibit slated for a three-month stay next summer. Created by the Museo Galileo in Florence and the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, it features day-in-the-life relics from 2,000 years ago, many in astonishingly pristine condition: a set of glazed jars that would look right at home on a modern kitchen counter; graffiti that has given modern scholars an insight into Roman slang; and an ingenious ancient odometer which, when attached to the cogs of a horse-drawn cart, dropped pebbles into a trough to track the wheel’s revolutions. The exhibit, which highlights more than 100 objects excavated from Pompeii’s 160-acre ruins, also includes heart-rending molds made from hollows left by two of the bodies in the ash, and an immersive, time-lapse animated film that tracks the course of the eruption. As a lead-up to the exhibit, eight Central Florida individuals and art groups will stage related events in the form of lectures, monologues, a film series, art installations, augmented reality displays, Pompeiian cooking tutorials, and a make-believe volcano that will be part of Immerse, the annual Creative City Project’s downtown arts fest.


Once a Dancer…


Patrons of the Orlando Ballet this season will see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place: Robert Hill is going to dance. He will be 60 years old and in his 11th year as artistic director when he takes the stage to perform as part of Made in the USA, a March celebration of American works. It won’t be his first comeback. In 1991, in the midst of a performance as the lead male dancer in a Royal Ballet Company production of Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center, he tore his ACL and had to be rushed off stage. Determined, Hill worked through a grueling rehab and returned to dancing. That was then. This is now.  “My first reaction was ‘no way,’ ’’ he says of the moment when a colleague suggested a one-off return to perform a brief, contemplative, solo work created by choreographer Jessica Lang, Hill’s longtime friend from his days as a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre in the 1990s. It took Lang herself, who is interested in creating works tailored for mature dancers, to convince him to perform the piece, titled “The Calling”—which is, fittingly, her tribute to the lifelong passion dance evokes. There’s a bit of synchronicity at work here, too: Orlando Ballet is in the midst of its own comeback, with a new board and a new performance center scheduled to open later this year.


Femmes of Fame and Fortune


Orlando Shakes artistic director Jim Helsinger has a thumbnail explanation for the enduring mystique of Eva Perón: “She’s Christian Dior meets Mother Teresa.” At least that’s how she’s portrayed in Evita, the 1979 Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the short-lived reign of an Argentinian peasant girl who rose from poverty to wealth and fame in the late 1940s and early 50s as the wife of Argentina dictator Juan Perón. Beloved as the country’s glamorous madre de todo los ninos, Eva Perón devoted herself to a charity for needy families and was on the verge of becoming a political powerhouse when she fell ill and died of cancer at the age of 33. The musical, an artful dance between cynicism and sentimentality, will serve as the Shakes’ season opener. Two other iconic females factor into in this season’s slate for the Shakes (three if you include the guilt-ridden, out-damned-spot co-conspirator in a fall production of Macbeth). Becoming Dr. Ruth explores another side of the chipper ’80s-era sex therapist, who was a Holocaust survivor and underground Nazi resister, while the Shakes’ traditional holiday season production will feature a droll homage to the proto-feminist 18th-century British author, Jane Austen, in Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.


Film Stars


Patrick and Holly Kahn are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Snap!, their personal homage to the art of still photography, with tributes to two legends: one Hollywood and one hometown. The first, to be staged in February in their main Snap! Space gallery in the Mills 50 district, will feature the works of Douglas Kirkland, a shy young Canadian shutterbug who began shooting elegant portraits of Hollywood celebrities in the 1960s. It was still a golden age for Tinseltown, an era when movie stars had an aura of royalty about them. Kirkland captured a tear in the eye of an aging Judy Garland, photographed a captivating Elizabeth Taylor with her tracheotomy scar in what turned out to be a breakthrough image for him, and once famously found himself in a photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe with nothing between them but a bottle of Dom Perignon and a set of silk sheets. Kirkland, now in his mid-80s, will travel to Orlando for the opening. The second exhibit, at the Snap! Downtown gallery, will honor Red Huber, the tireless, resourceful Orlando Sentinel photographer, best known for his historic images of the NASA space program taken during a 47-year career at the newspaper.


Give Peace a Week


Next time you’re in silent-scream mode, longing for a moment of peace, consider Nina Streich, who spends 51 weeks of the year looking for it and the better part of a week giving it away. Streich is the founder and executive director of the Global Peace Film Festival, which for 17 years has brought dozens of feature films and documentaries to Orlando to illustrate the quest for peace in various forms, be it individual or social, contemplative or communal, creative or crusading. The festival opens Sept. 16 with a screening at Enzian; the rest of the films will be shown at the Winter Park Public Library or venues at Rollins College. There’s also a student peace art exhibit, a short film competition tied to the theme of peace and, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, a display of artwork crafted by Jimi Hendrix. Festival films include Eating Up Easter, which explores the plight of the Rapa Nui people, indigenous Easter Island residents who are struggling with changes brought on by tourism; New Homeland, two-time Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple’s story about refugee boys from Syria and Iraq at a Canadian summer camp; and They Know Not What They Do, about four conservative families adjusting to their gay offspring.


When You Wish Upon a Lamp


The ancient tale of Aladdin, his magic lamp, and the wish-granting genie inside has made dreams come true for the Walt Disney Company, whose creatives have turned the Arabian Nights fables into a blockbuster three times over—as an animated feature, a live-action film, and a musical that will highlight this season’s Fairwinds Broadway series at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Aladdin: The Musical (shown at top), which had its New York debut five years ago, features flying carpets and fireworks, gaudy dance numbers and gilded sets, a woke and wisecracking genie, and a multi-genre, Broadway-tribute score punctuated by two songs made familiar by Disney’s pauper-meets-princess franchise fantasy: “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me.” The show’s decidedly family-friendly vibe is echoed throughout this season’s Fairwinds slate, which is stocked with a wide selection of kid stuff in various guises. Mean Girls is adapted from Tina Fey’s film about a home-schooled teen’s welcome-to-the-jungle encounter with a public high school’s reigning clique. A Bronx Tale is a musical revival of playwright/actor Chazz Palminteri’s semi-autobiographical account of a boy caught between his bus driver father’s guidance and his idolization of the neighborhood wise guy. The Play That Goes Wrong (shown above) is a kids-of-all-ages play-within-a-play about an amateur British theatrical troupe’s slapstick opening-night misadventures, while Escape to Margaritaville: The Jimmy Buffett Musical is a tequila-and-tattoos tribute to extended childhood.


Compose Yourself


It’s not exactly a backstage pass, but if your interest in music extends to figuring out how it’s made, the National Young Composers Challenge might be just the ticket. It doesn’t hurt that the ticket is free. The April 19th event is the brainchild of Steve Goldman, a Winter Park inventor, philanthropist and music lover. Goldman was bitten by the composing bug while a student at Winter Park High School when he created a piece that was performed by the school’s marching band. His event, dedicated to kindred spirits, is in its 14th year and is now co-sponsored by the University of Central Florida, which is developing a composition program with the help of an endowment Goldman provided. The competition brings six winners of a nationwide contest to Orlando to hear one of their works—be it classical or contemporary—discussed, rehearsed and played live at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a recruitment tool for UCF’s Music Department, a thrill for the teenage composers, and a free music class for audience members, who get the chance to listen in on shop talk between the pros and the protégés, get a glimpse of overachieving youngsters doing their overachieving thing, and enjoy what might just be the best free concert in town.


Bye Bye Bob


The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra wants to give an old friend a suitable sendoff.  This is the Phil’s final season at the 92-year-old Bob Carr Theater. Barring unforeseen construction delays and pending negotiations, the orchestra’s home base in 2020-21 will be the newly completed, 1,700-seat, state-of-the-art Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. By way of a celebratory so-long, the season, which features saxophonist Branford Marsalis in its opening concert, will include an A-list of popular compositions: there’s Ravel’s genius stroke of harmonic and instrumental minimalism in Bolero; one of the most popular jazz concertos ever written in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; and Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 5. But you can’t get much bigger than the that’s-all-folks number slated for the final concert of the Classic Series on April 25, which will feature Eric Whitacre’s majestic Deep Field, a tribute to the awe-inspiring images of the universe produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. The performance will include a film of some of the Hubble’s most breathtaking photographs (shown below).


Of Struggle and Celebration


The same pictures of bitterness and hope that writers like Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston and civil rights essayist James Baldwin painted with words were being explored by other creatives in the images of African American Art in the 20th Century, a touring exhibit of paintings and sculptures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibit, which will be on display Sept. 21-Dec. 29 at the Cornell Fine Arts  Museum at Rollins College, represents a broad-ranging assemblage of technique and life experience, both the bitter and the sweet, among the era’s greatest African American artists—from the surrealist folk art of Benny Andrews, who grew up in rural Georgia in the 1930s as the son of black sharecroppers, to the cartoons, oils and collages of Romare Bearden, a New York City jazz aficionado who studied at the Sorbonne, founded a Harlem-based group of politically active artists, and wrote a jazz classic of his own, “Sea Breeze,” which was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie. Bearden’s interest in musicians as a subject was shared by Frederick J. Brown, who captured hundreds of jazz and blues artists in his paintings, while Beauford Delaney became part of the ex-pat movement, exploring abstract expressionism from his studio
in Paris, France.


Silent Night, Stille Nacht


Five months after the outbreak of World War I, combatants on both sides of the Western Front emerged from their trenches in a spontaneous truce, temporarily trading shooting for serenading. It was Christmas Eve 1914, and they were singing Christmas carols: some in English, some in French, some in German. On at least one occasion, they sang in two languages at once. A British soldier assigned to the London Rifle Brigade recalled singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” with his mates to the accompaniment of Germans singing “Adeste Fidelis”—the same song, only in Latin. That murderous-to-miraculous and all too brief power-of-music cease-fire has inspired films, documentaries, children’s stories and a contemporary, a capella opera, All Is Calm, to be performed as a holiday offering with four performances in December by Opera Orlando at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. It’s the Florida premiere of the work and a typical choice by Gabriel Preisser, the troupe’s artistic and executive director. Preisser has coupled unflagging enthusiasm with a shrewdly balanced combination of new works and vintage favorites in shepherding the refurbished, rapidly rising company to success. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Gaetano Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment round out the company’s 2019-2020 mainstage season.


The Florida Prize in Contemporary Art. Conceived six years ago as a likely one-off, Orlando Museum of Art’s tribute to Sunshine State artists turned up such a mother lode of talent and has curated it so deftly, that the multi-artist event has become the city’s most compelling annual celebration of contemporary visual arts. May 29-Aug. 16. omart.org

Gladdening Light Symposium. This annual exploration of spirituality and the arts, which brings speakers and artists to the campus of Rollins College for a weekend of lectures and performances, will feature Rabbi Rami Shapiro, mystic Mirabai Starr and storyteller Barbara Brown Taylor on the subject of “inter-spirituality in a time of trial.” Feb. 6-9. gladdeninglight.org

Florida Film Festival. A 10-day whirlwind of roughly 180 feature films, documentaries, speakers, panel discussions and parties gives film buffs a chance to candidly mingle with veterans, celebs and up-and-comers of the film industry in the leafy environs of the Enzian theater, a nonprofit cinema art house in Maitland. April 17-26. floridafilmfestival.com

Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. The 14-day festival is the longest-running Fringe in the country, bringing dozens of unjuried, uncensored, unabashed and unconventional live performances to Loch Haven Park and the surrounding area, featuring troupes both local and from around the world. May 12-25. orlandofringe.org

Morse Museum of American Art. Besides its “Christmas in the Park” display of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained-glass windows, which is on Dec. 5 this year, the museum offers several other free events over the course of the year, including admission on Christmas Eve and Feb. 14-16, during the city’s Weekend of the Arts. morsemuseum.org

Orange County Regional History Center. This is the last month of “Love Speaks: Artistic Responses to the Pulse Nightclub Tragedy,” one of the most powerful exhibitions ever staged at the History Center, featuring paintings, graphic novels and mixed-media creations by artists who reacted to the tragedy with a creative outpouring that bespeaks grief, healing and hope. thehistorycenter.org

Mad Cow Theatre. Whatever you do, don’t take the children to The Children. But if you’ve got a taste for a post-apocalyptic scenario about three physicists who have found safe harbor from a global calamity—well, safe if it weren’t for the dangers within rather than those without—this has the look of a perfect Mad Cow vehicle. June 26-July 19. madcowtheatre.com

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