Wanzie’s Christmas Spectacular injects local color, comedy into the holidays

By : Chris Muscardin
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Orlando – It’s probably a safe bet that most who go to the Parliament House aren’t looking to find Jesus—at least not the Biblical Jesus. But that’s exactly where locally renowned playwright Michael Wanzie has decided to feature his annual holiday production this year.

Entitled Wanzie’s Orange Blossom Trail ‘Living Nativity’ Christmas Spectacular, the play opens Nov. 29 at the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre and will play the following three Saturdays in December.

Billed as “a twisted musical parody of biblical proportions,” the production is intended as a spoof of the old Disney living nativity scene. Wanzie played s shepherd in the original Disney nativity, which launched in 1974.

“I think [I decided on this production] because I missed the nativity at Disney,” says Wanzie. “They don’t do it anymore. In this play, we call our nativity ‘The Glory and Pageantry of Christmas’ because that’s the exact title that Disney called their nativity. The nativity portion of our show is a parody of that production.”

His parody is split into two parts. In the first act, we meet the lead of the show, Mrs. Henderson. Played by Rich Kuntz (better known as local drag star Gidget Galore), Mrs. Henderson is a snowbird who, appalled at what her old vacation spot on the Orange Blossom Trail has become, sets out on a project to “clean up the trail.” One of her ideas is to produce a living nativity performance for the holidays.

While she gets funding from the city for her production, the grant stipulates that she can only cast people who live or work on the Trail. That opens up an endless possibility of characters. Wanzie, who Mrs. Henderson hires to direct the show, does his best to stick to an authentic tableau, but after the producer begins to befriend the local collection of drag queens and streetwalkers, the traditional nativity scene begins to transform into a wildly original performance.

The second act features the living nativity scene itself, where the hi-jinks only continue.

“It’s a fucking hot mess,” says actress Jessica Hoehn, who plays none other than the Virgin Mary. “It’s great. I mean, I realize I’m going to hell over it, but I think that the table I’ll be sitting at will be pretty sweet.”

The performance is also an interactive one, as every night six audience members will be picked at random to join in the menagerie of performers in the nativity scene.

Like many of his other productions, Wanzie’s Christmas Spectacular is built on local color and references that only a Central Florida local will truly appreciate.

“That’s the hallmark of most of the shows I put on at the Footlight Theatre,” he remarks. But all jokes aside, the performance is, still at heart, an homage to the old Disney production.

“There’s singing, there’s dancing, but the great thing is that even though it’s a parody and there’s so much fun and joking, it is—well, I won’t say spiritual—but it’s a moving piece,” saysHoehn. “[For example,] all of the Christmas carols are sung not in comedy. It still really has the Christmas spirit, even though we’re kind of making fun of it.”

And perhaps it is only with Wanzie’s specific mash-up of cast that the balance is possible. Boasting some of the best theatrical talent in Orlando, joining Kuntz, Wanzie and Hoen on the cast are Doug Ba’aser (Taffy Pinkerton) and choreographer and artist Blue Star.

“There’s so much pure talent, [along with] everything going on visually… I’m really excited to be a part of it,” saysHoehn.
Tickets for the production are available for purchase online at Wanzie.com for $18, or at the theatre the day of the performance for $20. Everyone aged 14 years or older is welcome to attend, and complimentary admission to the Parliament House after the performance is included in the ticket price for those of legal age.

Purchasing in advance is highly recommended by the producer, who ensures that if you’re a fan of his productions this is definitely not one to miss.

But be forewarned:

“Once you experience Wanzie’s Orange Blossom Trail Living Nativity Christmas Spectacular,” Wanzie says, “you will never again be able to look at a manger scene with a straight face.”

WHAT: Wanzie’s Orange Blossom Trail Living Nativity Christmas Spectacular
WHERE: Footlight Theater at the Parliament House
WHEN: Nov. 29-Dec. 22
TICKETS: Wanzie.com

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