Artistic director Donald Roop says his final show kicks off as audiences arrive at the Renaissance Theatre, many dressed in 1970s style for 54.
He is right. If the disco tunes don’t give it away, a raised dance floor is a sure sign, not to mention a suspended mirror ball the size of a small planet.
“54” is actually half of the offering of two shows in Wren, near Orlando’s Loch Haven Park. The second, called “54 After-Hours,” lets patrons feel even more like they’re part of a 1970s nightclub inspired by New York City’s famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—Studio 54.
The origin of 54, Roop says, was the idea of providing pure entertainment: a few catchy tunes, a simple linear love story, “just dive into disco and do something bright and fun.”
Blake Aburn, Julien Aponte, Daniel Montalvo, David Low and J. Marie Bailey appear in one of the highlights of 54 at the Renaissance Theater in Orlando. (Contributed by Ashley Ann Gardner through the Renaissance Theater Company)
The audience sees something else.
“It’s definitely not what we thought when it all started,” Roop says. “It changed so quickly.”
Instead, the 50-minute show is an almost non-verbal mix of singing, dancing, and acting. The storylines are more evocative than self-explanatory. The choreography of Jacob Carr, who created the hit “Ain’t Done Bad”, is much more complex than a hustle. He changes the mood along with the actors.
Mickey Mix is among the performers of the show 54, which celebrates the art of drag along with the art of dance. (Contributed by Ashley Ann Gardner through the Renaissance Theater Company)
“I don’t want to do just ‘tourist attractions’,” Roop says. “We also want to do hard work.”
And “54” is both a challenge and entertainment.
In a series of vignettes, a young man with bloody hands experiences something traumatic, a woman dreams of having a child, a middle-aged couple shares a romantic interlude, a club goer is hard at work, a drag performer faces life.
Actors including Blake Aburn, Mickey Mix, Julien Aponte and David Lowe play it all out like a kind of heightened pantomime. But watch their faces. They know how their characters feel.
Singers Iris Johnson, AC Jenkins, Meka King and Will Scott find a 1970s vibe in original music written by Johnson, Will Scott, Cesar de la Rosa, Bryce Hayes, Matt Lynx and Adrian Rivera. (Contributed by Ashley Ann Gardner through the Renaissance Theater Company)
Should viewers interpret any drama as real? Or are we watching flashbacks? Nightmares? Feverish dream?
I don’t know for sure, but Roop assures me that everything is fine.
“There is a through line, but the vagueness is deliberate,” he says. “I wanted it to be a show where the audience has their own interpretation.”
It’s also the kind of show that inspires conversations. My companion and I discussed possible meanings—everything from a Lost-style purgatory scenario to a metaphor for overcoming trauma—for a good half hour afterwards.
Dancers Reed Rockefeller, Dakota Hemberger and Rhea Hughes performed their magic in the Renaissance Theater production of 54. (Contributed by Ashley Ann Gardner through the Renaissance Theater Company)
What we both agreed on was that it was exciting and fun to watch. Uncertainty about what exactly is going on nicely adds tension to the tension fueled by the original music, oh so cleverly crafted to sound like disco hits that are about 50 years old. The four singers pour out their lyrics with an intensity that matches both the rhythm and the emotions of the actors.
“54 After-Hours” continues the theme but allows viewers to participate – dancing to hits created by DJ Galvin Groove or performed live by other singers. Kyle Wilkinson falsettos the BeeGees on “Stayin’ Alive” and doesn’t leave before Cherry Gonzalez sets the dance floor on fire with “Last Dance”.
Signature cocktails are available at the bar. (I had Purple Haze, naturally, in the interest of research, and it was amazing.) There’s a costume contest and drag-and-drop performances that capture the spirit of the 1970s.
Professional dancers also perform; For me personally, Kyle Bamfus, Andy Sanchez, and Greg Wood stood out in particular for their distinct yet fluid movements and expressive faces.
Cherry Gonzalez (center) sings “The Last Dance” while Jax Lee, Rhea Hughes, Michi Aranguran, Kyle Bamfuss and Reed Rockefeller dance in “54”. (Contributed by Ashley Ann Gardner through the Renaissance Theater Company)
“It’s just a fun celebration of disco, fun and dancing,” Roop says of the after-party. “It’s an elevated night.”
In fact, he offers season passes for people who want to be regulars at 54 After-Hours just for the great vibe.
“I want to please everyone a little,” Roop says. “I want people in the theater to find something to hang on to. But I want ‘ordinary’ people to enjoy the night at the club too.”
- What: A 50-minute dance show to original 1970s-inspired music followed by a live music party called “54 After-Hours”.
- Where: Renaissance Theatre, 415 E. Princeton St. in Orlando.
- When: 20:45 show “54”, 22:00 “54 After-Hours” on Fridays and Saturdays through August; additional show at 19:00 and a party on Sunday, July 16
- Expenses: $54 for both events; $40 for 54 only, $15 for 54 After-Hours only, $100 for unlimited pass to 54 After-Hours, $150 for unlimited pass to both shows in summer, VIP packages also available.
- Information: renttheatre.com/fiftyfour
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