PREVIEW

Universal puts a shine on new Mardi Gras floats

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Political candidates would feel jumpy backstage at Universal Studios this time of year. It's a dream come true for potential glitter bombers — gallons and gallons of multiple colors of glitter, just waiting to be dumped on unsuspecting speakers.

Of course, Universal Orlando doesn't get political with its sparkling little plastic particles. It does liberally apply it to the floats used in its Mardi Gras parade, which returns to the streets of the theme park Saturday.

Although Universal depends on the New Orleans traditions and talent for its festival, there's one way Universal literally outshines the Big Easy.

"Traditionally, in New Orleans, they don't like a lot of glitter, but we really like glitter," says Patrick Braillard, production show director for Universal's Mardi Gras. "If you were to look at the Polar float without the glitter on it, it might look kind of flat. Once you add that glitter, that dimension, once they turn the lights on, it will sparkle."

Universal's designers worked with the legendary Blaine Kerns Mardi Gras World to create four new floats to join Orlando's parade standbys such as the King Gator or the showboat. This year's newbies salute elements of the Earth and are called Polar, Swamps and Bayous, Rain Forest and Deep Blue Sea.

The Polar entry is fronted by a large walrus discovered in the Kerns warehouse.

"This walrus is 20 or 30 years old. They recycle props year in and year out," Braillard says. "We just saw him and he was so impressive. We had to have that walrus."

That walrus now is coated with gold and copper glitter and accompanied by penguins and polar bears. The float also will carry snow machines along the route.

Almost a year ago, Universal workers spent a few days in the gigantic Kerns warehouse developing a theme. That's where they found the large whale sculpture for the ocean-themed float.

Elsewhere in New Orleans (full disclosure: it was a casino), the team was inspired by a sculpture of "this gigantic flower with this enormous hummingbird," Braillard says.

"Lo and behold, Kerns was able to provide. They knew how to build it," he says. The hummingbird now floats in front of the Rain Forest float.

The bayou float is populated with gators, cranes and fireflies. Bringing up the rear is a shack with the sign "Miss Vicki's Crawfish Boil," a string of lobster-shaped lights and glittery raccoons emerging from the windows. The fishing boat is marked with the license LA 22112 MG, representing Louisiana and the date of this year's actual Mardi Gras: 2-21-12.

Rerouted

In years past, Universal's Mardi Gras parade started near the Jaws ride, but the shuttering of Amityville for a yet-unidentified new attraction has necessitated changes.

Look for this year's parade to enter the park between the Horror Make-Up Show and Café La Bamba, veer right around Mel's Drive-In and head toward New York. It will turn left onto Plaza of the Stars, passing in front of Music Plaza, then loop back to its starting point via Hollywood Boulevard.

The route is subject to change. We've seen it completely reverse course during the run of Mardi Gras.

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

Universal's Mardi Gras

Where: Universal Studios, intersection of Interstate 4 and Kirkman Road, southwest of Orlando

When: Saturdays through April 14 and select other dates. Parade begins at 7:30 p.m. on event dates, followed by the concert at 8:30 p.m. (Beginning March 31, the parade begins at 8:30 p.m., concert at 9:30 p.m.)

Cost: Included in regular park admission. A one-day, one-park ticket is $85 ($79 ages 3-9). Florida residents can buy a ticket online that allows entry after 5 p.m. on Mardi Gras dates for $59.99.

Phone: 407-363-8000

Online: UniversalOrlando.com/MardiGras

Singers center stage at Universal event

The B-52s take to the stage on Saturday as the first musical guests of this year's Mardi Gras at Universal Studios. Here are other acts that caught my eye.

Kelly Clarkson (Feb. 18): The first "American Idol" winner put on a strong show two years ago at Universal, and I have it on super-super-unofficial authority that she drew the largest Mardi Gras crowd ever.

Diana Ross (Feb. 25): I'm using Mardi Gras to complete my classic diva collection alongside previous appearances by Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer.

Big Time Rush (March 10): I don't blame you for judging me, but I saw a couple of episodes of the band's TV show while I had the flu, and I laughed more than once. Really! It made me think of "The Monkees." (Kids, ask your moms!) Also, I heard that when the foursome appeared at Universal last summer, the attendance was light, so it could be more elbow room — but also more tween screams.

Hot Chelle Rae (March 23) and B.o.B (March 24): It's a double-header weekend featuring up-and-comers with catchy songs.

Cyndi Lauper (April 7) and/or KC & the Sunshine Band (April 14): Pick your favorite to wrap up Mardi Gras. I saw Lauper open strong for Cher ages ago in the old Orlando Arena. And while it's easy to mock the presence of the ever-present KC, you should know he packs them in at Universal and he puts on a show.
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