Holidays at Disney, Day 2: Walking with the Animals and a Meal Fit for a King (Animal Kingdom & EPCOT)

Tree of Life

At 5:30am, I rolled out of bed.

One of the perks of staying on a Disney property is that you get early entry into the parks.  Later hours for on property guests are also making a comeback, but are currently limited only to the deluxe resorts, but I digress.

The final week of December is one of the most crowded of the year (a fact I was unaware of when I booked as when I last visited during this time frame in 1994, it was a low-capacity week, but times change).  Though WDW is still capping capacity, the parks do get awfully crowded, but not as bad as I feared.  I’d actually seen much worse on certain event days in the past.  That being said, I was still banking on the early hours to be able to do my favorite rides first thing without having to endure long waits.  Also, because of the heavier crowds, early entry would begin an hour before regular opening instead of 30 minutes.

Currently, you need to make a reservation to visit a park in order to gain entry.  The Park Hopper pass has returned so you can bounce between parks, but you have to start in the one you reserved and you can’t start hopping until 2pm.  OK, enough prefacing.

Today my reservation was for Animal Kingdom which opened at 8am, meaning that early entry was at 7am.  I’m a bit of an early entry veteran so I knew how light the crowds normally were and was counting on that again, especially with such an early opening time.

Dopey me.

I arrived at Animal Kingdom and my eyes went wide at the huge lines already waiting to enter the park.  Fortunately, I had taken a few precautions.

That morning I booked Genie+ through My Disney Experience.  For an extra $15 a day, you can start reserving the Lightning Lane on WDW’s more popular rides. 

Lightning Lane replaces the Fastpass system.  You can reserve an hour’s time frame to return to the ride and get into a special line where you’ll only wait a few minutes before getting to board.  Through experimentation, I found there was a 10-15 minute grace period before and after the time frame you’re given for the most part.  Use of Lightning Lane is unlimited for the day, but the catch is that you can only book a new experience every two hours.  Please note that you can start booking at 7am, but the 2 hour clock doesn’t start ticking until the park officially opens.  So that means I booked a pass for Kali River Rapids at 7am, but wasn’t able to book again until 10am since the park officially opened at 8am.  After that I was able to book every two hours for any park until they closed or until all the Lightning Lanes got used up.  To keep people from cheating you have to pass through two checkpoints with your park ticket card, Magicband, or Magicmobile device in order to utilize the lane.

With Fastpass, it was impossible to have overlapping times with another ride, but you can do that with Lightning Lane.  So with a little strategy, you can stack Lightning Lanes and get a series of line skips. 

My other precaution was that I knew everybody and their uncle would be heading for Avatar:  Rite of Passage.  Due to its mega popularity and relative newness, you can’t get a regular Lightning Lane pass, but you can purchase a special Lightning Lane pass just for that ride.  I did so and would return around 6:30pm to ride it.  As such, I was able to hit all the other rides in Animal Kingdom with minimal waits.

Animal Kingdom is a hybrid of amusement park and zoo and is my least favorite of the four.  Sure, there’s plenty of fun, but you can do it all in a half day, at best. 

I followed the crowds to Pandora since it was new to me and wanted to see what it looked like.  I was blown away by the construction of the world of Pandora which housed the Avatar ride, but while a humongous line formed over there (the wait was already at 2 hours), I moseyed over to Na’vi River Journey which had a wait of zero minutes.

Na’vi River Journey is a pleasant boat ride through the world of Avatar and I was blown away by the advancement in animatronics.  With the use of projected animated faces for expressions and the fluidity of movement, the robots seem like real people.

It was an enjoyable ride, but not enough for me to take a second go so I headed over to Dinoland, USA to ride Dinosaur.

Dinosaur is a dark EMV attraction where you ride a time rover back to the age of the dinosaurs.  The tour is supposed to take you to the early Cretaceous period, but one of the scientists, Dr. Grant Seeker, informs you that he intends to send your group back to the late Cretaceous period in order to save an Iguanodon from extinction and bring it back to the present.  Unfortunately, the late Cretaceous is when the theorized meteor shower that wiped out the dinosaurs struck so you’re racing against the clock.

It’s a bumpy, exciting ride as you see legendary beasts of yore before escaping from the meteor shower with the Iguanodon who then starts wandering about the Institute, but that’s Dr. Seeker’s problem.

Then I made my over to Expedition Everest.  This is a thrilling roller coaster ride where you search for the legendary Yeti, but be wary.  Thanks to this ride’s single rider line, I dashed through it three times in a row.

From there I visited Kali River Rapids and the line was so low that I took a ride on it.  It’s a river raft ride meant to show the dangers of deforestation, though that seems to be a bit more underplayed nowadays.  It’s a fun ride and I got a fair dousing after barreling down a waterfall which was more invigorating than a morning cup of joe.

I wandered through Maharajah Jungle Trek to dry off and view tigers, monkeys, and other animals.  Then I used my pass to get through Kali River Rapids again.

By 10:30, I had done everything I wanted.  Normally, I would have hopped to another park, but since that was out until 2pm, I simply went back to Coronado Springs to rest and use the pool.

Coronado Springs does have multiple pools, but the main one is called the Dig Site.  A towering Mayan pyramid dominates the site and the site has a large heated pool and hot tub.  It also has a pretty fun water slide called the Jaguar Slide, so I enjoyed a pleasant period splashing, sliding, and luxuriating in the hot tub.

The Dig Site

Then I caught up on some reading in the hotel room before making my way back to Epcot.

I did some more exploring before heading to the Canada Pavilion to have a very early dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse.

Le Cellier Steakhouse

I had been looking forward to this meal for a long, long time.  I had tried to get a reservation on every trip I’d taken to WDW for the last 20 years and was denied each and every time.  Finally, I managed to get that elusive reservation and mark it off the bucket list.

As I was led to my table, I saw why I had so much difficulty snaring a reservation.  If that restaurant could hold more than 150 people, I’d have been amazed.  It’s also one of the most popular restaurants in all of WDW.

I started off with an exquisite bowl of Canadian Cheddar Cheese soup.  It was seasoned just right and had bits of bacon and chives mixed into it.  It was also served with three kinds of rolls (sourdough, pretzel, and multigrain with sunflower seeds).  The main course was a NY strip with cheddar potatoes au gratin, crispy onions, and le poivre (ground black pepper) sauce.  This was the tastiest steak I had ever eaten.  So tender and juicy.  I spent over an hour savoring this meal and sent my compliments to the chef.  My server, Sharee, was perfect.  She checked on me just enough so I could savor my meal and gave me a to go cup so I could sip my soda as I walked around Epcot.

After walking off some of my meal, I dashed back over to Animal Kingdom where I worked my way through the crowd getting ready to watch the closing show at the Tree of Life to make my way to Avatar.  Animal Kingdom closes shortly after sundown due to its lack of artificial light.

Avatar takes full motion technology to the ultimate level.  The theme of the ride is that you’re linked with a Na’Vi avatar to experience the rite of passage of flying on an ikran or mountain banshee.  With the use of 3-D glasses and the motion technology, you fly around the beautiful world of Pandora and actually feel like you’re flying on the ikran.  You can even feel it breathing and its wings flap.  Definitely worth the money I paid for the Lightning Lane.

Speaking of which, I had been stacking them up at Epcot so I returned there to start burning them off.

The two new rides I rode were Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After.

Soarin’ is also an impressive piece of motion technology that simulates taking a hang gliding trip around the world as you sail over pyramids, oceans, deserts, mountains, elephants, and whales.  Frozen Ever Water is the 2nd most popular ride in Epcot and replaced the Maelstrom ride in Norway.  I think it tells an abbreviated version of Frozen, but I’m unfamiliar with the film.  I did marvel at the incredible animatronic technology.

After the ride, I nabbed a peppermint sundae from the Holiday Sweets and Treats kiosk and enjoyed some ice cream before returning to the hotel for the night.

‘The Producers’ Produce One Heckuva Show

Faded and failed Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, comes up with a crookedly inspired idea when mousey accountant, Leo Bloom, innocently states that, under the right circumstances, a person could make more money with a Broadway flop than a hit.  With Bloom’s help, Bialystock plots to produce the biggest Broadway bomb in history and escape to Rio with the cash.  This is The Producers written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and closes the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Brooks and Meehan do an excellent job translating Brooks’ classic movie to the stage.  Overall, it is a tight, well told story, though there were a couple of scenes that felt like they were added solely to pad the show.  Brooks proves himself to be an especially effective songwriter with a score riddled with memorable, rib tickling numbers.  The script is helped by a very effective cast who brought their A game to a nearly sold out opening night house.

Jeff Horger triumphs with a superior piece of direction.  The staging of the show is beyond reproach.  He has led his actors to a series of varied and vibrant performances.  The bits of business are spot on and the scene changes are smooth as satin.

Steve Krambeck caps an impressive season with a sterling performance as Leo Bloom that may stake him a claim to the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire award.  It was a real treat to watch Krambeck play against type as the shy and repressed accountant who dreams to be a Broadway producer.  He stuns with his visceral uncomfortableness around women and his obsessive cuddling of his baby blanket when he gets overstressed.  Krambeck constructs a wonderful arc for Bloom as he grows in confidence during the course of the play and transforms from a mouse to a man.

Krambeck has an incredibly mellow tenor singing voice that I could sit and listen to all day.  This instrument was used to the fullest in numbers such as We Can Do It, I Wanna Be a Producer, and the  sweet That Face and ‘Til Him.  Krambeck also proved himself a surprisingly agile and graceful hoofer with his dance numbers.

Jim McKain’s performance as Max Bialystock is pitch perfect.  He’s so oily, so greedy, so much of a scoundrel.  Yet, deep down, he has a core of decency that peeks out from time to time and only grows stronger as Bloom’s niceness rubs off on him.  McKain has a very mighty tenor voice which soars in The King of Broadway, Where Did We Go Right?, and especially in Betrayed which is not only musically pleasing, but a physical acting tour de force.

Mike Palmreuter’s turn as Franz Liebkind is howlingly funny.  As the off kilter, bird loving, Nazi loyalist, Palmreuter nearly rips off this show.  His character is the author of Springtime for Hitler, the play within the play that Liebkind wrote to clear Hitler’s reputation.  Palmreuter’s bass voice beautifully booms in tunes like Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop and Have You Ever Heard the German Band?  His powerful frame disguises the fact that he is a nimble dancer whose animated moves provided some of the biggest laugh out loud moments of the night.

Lindsey Ussery is a sweet delight as Ulla, the Swedish woman trying to break into entertainment.  Ms Ussery has a good sense of movement maximized in her enticing audition for Bloom and Bialystock in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It.  She has a pleasant alto voice which I rather enjoyed in This Face and her Swedish accent held up quite well.  Ms Ussery did sound a bit breathy at some points, so she’ll need to remember to keep up the breath support.

Ryan Pivonka is a scream as Roger DeBris.  DeBris is an overwrought queen who thinks shows should always remember to Keep it Gay.  He’s a lousy director who proves to be an equally inept actor when he is compelled to take over the role of Hitler and gives a 5 star horrific performance that had the audience guffawing at the top of their lungs in Springtime for Hitler.  Pivonka also rocks an evening gown surprisingly well.

The show’s ensemble cast was a hit with their sly little acting moments and extremely slick dancing.  Particular notice goes out to Don Harris who excels in several character roles, especially with his performance as Bloom’s bullying boss, Mr. Marks.  Zach Kloppenborg brings it as Carmen Guia, DeBris’ histrionic “common-law assistant”.  And I would also like to tip my hat to the puppeteer of Liebkind’s birds who gave a dandy performance of their own.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra couldn’t hit a wrong note if they tried.  Melanie Walters deserves an award for her choreography.  This was the best choreography I have seen in my 20 years in the business and you’re going to be amazed at what Ms Walters can do with a slew of walkers in Along Came Bialy.  Jim Othuse does some of his best work yet in the many pieces of scenery built from this show from the office of Bloom and Bialystock to the outside of the theatre to the multiple bits of scenery needed for the massive Springtime for Hitler scene.  Amanda Fehlner should be proud of her costuming especially in the musical within a musical as the stormtrooper and chorus girl outfits were some of the most creative I’ve seen.

The Producers is what good comedy is all about.  It doesn’t try to share a message and it doesn’t have a lot of depth.  It’s just a lot of fun and will take you out of yourself for a while.  The work of the entire cast and crew, especially that of Krambeck and McKain, will blow you away and I do believe I hear the sweet sound of cash registers ringing for the Playhouse, so be sure to buy a ticket today.

The Producers runs at the Playhouse through June 26.  Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesdays and $40 for adults and $25 for students Thurs-Sun.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit their website at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Parental discretion is advised for the show due to a little strong language and some suggestive moments.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

 

OCP Holding Auditions for Season Finale “The Producers”

THE PRODUCERS
Production Dates: May 27-June 26, 2016
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Jeff Horger
Synopsis: Winner of 12 Tony Awards, The Producers is the hilarious, lively and absurd Mel Brooks comedy that follows Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom on their quest to become filthy rich on Broadway. They have created the perfect formula for wealth on the Great White Way —produce an utter and complete theatrical failure. Packed full of dancing Nazis, storm troopers and showgirls, their musical Springtime for Hitler is a sure bet to bomb. Now they just need to sit back and let the dough roll in…

Audition Dates: Monday, March 14, 2016 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Character Descriptions:

MAX BIALYSTOCK (Late 30s to mid 60s) A Broadway producer who has fallen from grace. He either intimidates others with sarcasm and a fiery temper or placates them with seductive or confusing “mile a minute” wordplay. If that doesn’t work, he has carnal relations with them. Although he is far from athletic looking, he is a pure ball of energy from the moment the curtain goes up until he takes his final bow. He is the kind of person you would hate to meet in real life but love to watch on stage. BARITONE/TENOR.

LEO BLOOM (Mid 20s to early 40s) A mousy, nervous, and generally pathetic accountant who wants to be a Broadway producer. Introducing him to anyone and anything new or unusual sends him into a full-blown panic attack. He’s the underdog of the show we all root for. If you look beyond his wretched demeanor and lack of presence, he’s actually kind of a good-looking. TENOR.

ULLA (Mid 20s to late 30s) A Swedish actor hoping to make her big break. She is strikingly tall, conventionally beautiful, and unapologetically sexual. She speaks with a distinct Swedish accent, which occasionally affects her ability to communicate with others, but she is not stupid. She knows exactly what she wants and she is going to get it. She is frank in her discussion of sexuality, but she is not perverse. She’s European. MEZZO-SOPRANO.

FRANZ LIEBKIND (60s +) An active member of the Nazi party in Germany during World War II. While that is a pretty terrible character trait, it is doubtful that he was allowed to participate in anything important, or that he had the intellectual prowess to fully understand anything beyond the basic jingoism of the movement. He has an absurd romantic view of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, which forms the basis for his stage play Springtime for Hitler. It’s hard to take him seriously, a fact which is completely lost on him. Others regard him as unstable and dangerous, but it has a lot more to do with his being a loon than with his being a Nazi. BARITONE/BASS.

ROGER DE BRIS (late 20s to mid 50s) The worst working director in New York. Everything about him is over the top – think young Liza Minelli trapped in current Patton Oswalt’s body. He is openly gay and proud of it. As a narcissist, he’s proud of everything he does. The comedy of playing Roger doesn’t come from his sexuality, but rather from his ludicrousness. Although his career path has led him down the road of directing, he subconsciously longs for the spotlight and drama of being the leading lady. He has absolutely no idea how ridiculous he is. BARITONE/TENOR.

CARMEN GHIA (late 20s to mid 40s) Roger’s significant other. In addition to being Roger’s partner, he is also his personal assistant. He is prissy, squeaky, effervescent, and just as bizarre as Roger. The two of them have a tumultuous relationship made up of equal parts Bugs & Daffy, George & Martha, and Laverne & Shirley. TENOR.

NAZI SOLOIST (Early 20s to early 40s) A good looking Nazi soldier who sings the main theme song from Springtime for Hitler. He looks like a formal army officer, but he has charisma and strong stage presence.

ENSEMBLE  The casting team is currently looking at an ensemble of 8 to 10 women and 4 to 6 men. All members of the ensemble will play multiple roles, including but not limited to: accountants, ushers, Nazis, old ladies, prisoners, police officers, and Broadway actors/dancers. Several members of the ensemble will perform in drag. There are roles available for actors of any gender and race. Strong singing and dancing skills required. All ensemble members must be 18 years old before June 1st, 2016.

NOTES ABOUT THE SHOW
The Producers is a silly show. It is funny, but more so…it is absurd. There are traditional jokes written with a set-up and punchline. There are witty characters who play with language. There are clever lyrics that make you both chuckle and think. There is outrageous physical slapstick. There are unlikely circumstances that make characters squirm uncomfortably, to the point that we can’t help but laugh at them.
This is not a show about Nazis. It is a show about taste, and how there is no accounting for it. It is both an homage to and parody of Broadway musicals. It is a show about greed and what it makes us do, and how the pursuit of fortune and fame leads us blindly into ridiculous circumstances that could have been easily prevented.
This show contains mild language, cartoonish violence, and scatological humor. It pokes fun at musicals, New York, celebrities, the legal system, foreigners, homophobia, antisemitism, the elderly, sex, and the Nazi party.
This show requires triple threats who understand and can execute a specific style of comedy. The characters in this show exist in a reality similar to our own, and most of them don’t realize just how funny their situation is. The show doesn’t work if the actors lay the comedy on thick, trying to squeeze laughs out of the audience. They need to live truthfully and simply inhabit this bizarre world created by Mel Brooks.

What to Bring:
• Please come prepared with 16 bars of music prepared to sing. An accompanist will be provided.

• There will be a dance audition, please come dressed ready to move. No boots, sandals, flip-flops, slick shoes, etc.

• You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• A recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.