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Dancing in the Streets

The music. The magic. The memories. Rex Duke, the world's first and foremost Mardi Gras critic, returns to bestow his honors upon the most deserving krewes.

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Greetings, Royal Subjects!

On Fat Tuesday, the storm clouds drew open their shadowy curtains to reveal a gilded city, splendidly costumed for a day of revelry. But in those early weeks of Carnival season, our noble krewes endured another year of both rain and cold to fearlessly roll out their artistic processions, and I salute them all.

I, too, braved the elements to steer my chariot across the vast kingdom of Carnival, at times even moving assembled trash cans and 2-by-4s to park my noble steed near the parade route. I watched and considered each krewe, judging it for the originality and execution of its theme, its organization, the quality and generosity of its throws, and its musicality -- along with its strict adherence to such time-honored traditions as masking. Here, I present my results and rankings.

Following this last gesture, I place my quilled pen upon the mantel until next year. Adieu!

2005 PARADE SEASON HIGHLIGHTS:

BEST OVERALL PARADE: Bacchus

BEST DAY PARADE: Rex

BEST NIGHT PARADE: Chaos

BEST SUPER KREWE: Bacchus

BEST SUBURBAN PARADE: Caesar

MOST IMPROVED PARADE: (tie) Endymion and Pegasus

FAVORITE THEMES: "Alla's Travels Through Middle Earth," "Bacchus' Super Sunday," "Just Another Super Sunday ... at the Movies," "Chaos Spins the Beatles" "Visions of Age-Old Cathay," "Tarot d'Etat"

RATINGS KEY:


Excellent -- sets a new Carnival standard


Very good to outstanding


Good


Fair


Poor

ADONIS
Packages of seeds -- cabbages, beets, spinach -- were certainly the most practical throw of the season. Adonis illustrated "Adonis Visits Ancient Cultures" with floats including the Viking-themed "To Sea or Not to Sea" and "Cortez' Lost Gold," which featured a painted Mexican jungle scene on the side. A late start, just a few bands and uninspired costuming didn't help Adonis' outing this year -- but then again, you can't plant beads and cups.

ALADDIN
Jefferson Parish's famous sheriff blasted into orbit, got hooked, sang the blues, and walked the plank in Aladdin's homage to Harry Lee, "We're So Wild About Harry." Most stunning was the "Sayonara Harry" float, with its oversized Geisha head, apple blossom tree and Asian cityscape. Grand Marshal Harry Lee (of course) was a good sport through it all, but teen idols Jesse McCartney and Tyler Hilton elicited the most shrieks from fans. Prize catches included logo swords and inflatable Arabian face masks.

ALLA
Alla waited until its 11th float to announce its theme, "Alla's Travels Through Middle Earth," but it lavishly honored Tolkien's hobbit classics in floats such as "The Elves of Rivendale" and especially "The Duplicitous Golem," depicting Golem in all his creepiness. Krewe members all costumed alike, and a few riders were seen without their masks, but Alla didn't disappoint with its annual band contest. Standouts included Marrero's L.W. Higgins High School and McDonogh 35 -- especially McDonogh's mighty trumpet section.

ANCIENT DRUIDS
Sadly, the Tuesday before Mardi Gras was a stormy one, so much so that the Krewe of Morpheus postponed its ride. Ancient Druids rolled anyway, and thankfully the rain stopped in time for the parade. Still, the weather kept the crowds in and caused most bands to pull out. I salute the Marine Corps band and the John Ehret High School band, both of which stuck it out, then marched swiftly as the parade sped through the streets of New Orleans. Because many float cards were missing -- a casualty of the rain, likely -- it's hard to comment on the "Druid Counts" theme. Let's hope for better weather next year so more can appreciate the appropriately spooky Archdruid float, with the tangle of withered tree branches backing the krewe's monarch.

AQUILA
"Aquila's World Wide City Tour" led to some strange sister cities: Houston shared a float with St. Petersburg, and Zimbabwe teamed up with Las Vegas. Yet I raise my glass to Paris and its good-humored rendering of a large bottle of "Chateau Le Cheap." Riders stayed nicely masked, with costumes that matched floats -- Tokyo's riders wore kimonos, and the Londonites dressed in round-brim hats. East Jefferson High School's band put on a good show with its quick side-to-side dance steps, and the officers and ladies in waiting were especially generous with their throws to the many grateful kids.

ARGUS
Argus said "Thanks for the Memories" of such favorites as movies, beignets and childhood itself, represented by a bust of Mickey Mouse. But it was the memory of the late sportscaster Buddy Diliberto -- honored in Argus as in other parades this season by none other than Abdul the Tentmaker -- that provided the most poignant moment. A well-organized outing by Argus also featured Sen. David Vitter, who displayed good form as he tossed cups into the crowd.

ATLAS
Last year, I granted the riders of Atlas a pass for removing their masks, due to the rain. This year, Atlas again braved a downpour, so I extend the pass -- for one more year. Next year, I wish them clear skies. The krewe admirably rolled with a sunny disposition, honoring the theme "Imaginary Creatures" with floats depicting wizards, unicorns and Santa's helpers (who, my young readers, aren't really imaginary, but as toymakers they do have imagination).

BACCHUS
What do you do if your parade is scheduled to roll the very night that much of America is indoors watching the Super Bowl? If you're Bacchus, you roll with it -- literally. By embracing and honoring football and the Super Bowl with "Bacchus' Super Sunday," the super krewe scored a touchdown. For many, the most memorable experience of watching parades this season was witnessing the procession of Bacchus' depiction of teams such as the Minnesota Vikings (with a stunning Viking likeness) and Seattle (with a sleek Seahawk and a delightful cityscape complete with the Space Needle), and seeing the floats pass through the night's big game itself, visible on various large-screen TVs set up by various people and entities along the route. All this plus tight organization, copious throws (footballs especially scored at this parade) and, with both current Bacchus Sean Astin and last year's Elijah Wood on board, it was a Hobbit fest to boot!

BARDS OF BOHEMIA
For its second year since returning to the streets, the Bards of Bohemia rolled on the first Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, for the second year in a row the parade struggled, this year's problems beginning with a float hobbled with two flat tires that caused Bards to start late. Then the repaired float hit a tree as it tried to catch up, sending riders to the hospital. Sadly, that wasn't the parade's only weakness. For the second year in a row, Bards seems to have treated signage as an afterthought, with a thin coat of whitewash over last year's float cards allowing lettering to show through. There was no theme float or card, and the "South Pacific" float card was misspelled. Guest celebrity Frank Davis was a highlight, wearing the king's pageboy wig, tunic and tights with good humor. But I wish the "Phantom of the Opera" float riders followed his lead; none on the sidewalk side had costumes or masks.

CAESAR
With the Imagination Movers serving as celebrity grand marshals (and handing out coloring books along the way), Caesar rolled out an especially tuneful parade this year. The krewe cleverly illustrated its "Name That Tune" theme as a guessing game, with floats that portrayed -- and played -- songs such as "Crocodile Rock" but then only displayed the titles on the floats' backsides. Attention to detail included arena-style smoke pouring from a KISS float, with painted riders handing out inflatable electric guitars.

CARROLLTON
A good afternoon of Carnival begins with the Holy Cross marching band leading the crowd in a sing-along version of "Hey Baby," and that's how this year's Carrollton parade began. Reconciling the floats to the "A Quest for History" theme wasn't always easy -- Was there a jab in the jester float titled "Arthur Hardy"? Why was the plane on the "Wright Brothers" float in a nosedive? -- but the enthusiasm of the riders and bands more than compensated. The Dodge County High School marching band from Eastman, Ga., surprised the crowd with a version of "Old Time Religion" while McDonogh Senior High performed a rocking "Boogie Wonderland." The horse-drawn hearse at the end of the parade with "We'll Miss You Tiny (Bill)" sign autographed by all the krewe members gave the parade heart. One sour note -- riders talking on their cell phones during the parade is declasse, to say the least.

CENTURIONS
"Let's Celebrate" struck a festive tone for Centurions' annual outing, and floats depicted various holidays, including St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras, and the Fourth of July. But the large Halloween float proved to be too much for its tractor, which did wheelies as it tried to make a turn -- one reason why Centurions suffered from a few stalls this year. Among the bands, Chalmette's Andrew Jackson Fundamental Magnet High School looked as sharp as it sounded, with neon tubes decorating its horns.


CHAOS
The theme "Chaos Spins the Beatles" allowed for charmingly scandalous floats. Float titles parodied Beatles' song titles: "Don't Let Me Drown" mocked the contra-flow confusion and "B.S. I Love EWE" commented on former governor Edwin Edwards' wife Candy filing for divorce while he sits in prison. The "Let Him Be" float was tribute to the late Buddy Diliberto, and "Yesterdaze" mourned the New Orleans institutions of yore including old Carnival krewes. Chaos reprised last year's all-white float with white-clad riders as "The Blanco Album," prompting Rex Duke to wonder how the krewe will work this float into future parades. It was enough to overlook Chaos' notoriously scarce throws. Add fine performances by bands from Slidell High School and Opelousas High, and you have one of the high points of this year's Mardi Gras.


CLEOPATRA
Once again plagued by bad weather, the ladies of Cleopatra can be forgiven for starting an hour late, and are to be applauded for their spirit and pluck -- as well as for attractive throws such as the stuffed pink cats from the "Broadway Musicals" float. Other standouts that illustrated the "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" theme included the Disney World float, featuring a Cinderella's Castle and riders bedecked in flashing Minnie Mouse bows that were even visible in the rain. But ladies, keep in mind that pushing your mask up onto your forehead doesn't count for disguise.

ENDYMION
This year, Endymion showed you can be both bigger and better, illustrating its "Endymion's Mythological Menagerie" theme with both well-known examples such as Cyclops and the Centaurs and rarities such as Briareus and Sedna. The artwork was often striking, especially on the fiery Phoenix float. A cheerful Marisa Tomei headed up a roster of visiting celebrities, including Gene Simmons, Sex and the City's Willie Garson and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Thom Filicia. It's hard to move a giant, however, and Endymion's pace did suffer from many long gaps, but marching bands including St. Mary's Academy and Covington's St. Paul's School kept spirits up -- as did the dancing M.B. Smiley High School from Houston.

EXCALIBUR
Excalibur's signature floats are epic indeed -- an unnamed dragon float, featuring flames and a damsel in distress, was one of Carnival's best. The theme "A Knight in Ancient Times" generally served the krewe well, although a float honoring Africa didn't really fit in -- and was oddly bereft of Africans. Still, riders were in great spirits, and the pink stuffed bears from the Junior Court brought smiles to the youngest parade goers.

HERMES
Hermes dazzled me again as King Frank Levy led the procession with the theme "The Passion of Zeus." On a somber note, a riderless horse with boots backwards in the stirrups led the parade as a tribute to fallen soldiers. Visually, Hermes' floats used colored lights most effectively, whether giving Zeus' eyes a spooky power on "Supreme Olympian," tinting the "Minotaur" float a hellish red, or giving the "Demeter" float a fertile green hue. Riders threw cups and beads with an infectious enthusiasm, but krewe medallion beads seemed to be in typically short supply.

IRIS
For your humble scribe, the Krewe of Iris is the comfort food of Mardi Gras. This reliable, good-natured parade never fails to please, and this year was no exception. Its theme, "A Whirl of Celebration," led to floats commemorating holidays like Halloween, Valentine's Day and Easter, as well as less famous events like the Alaskan Fur Festival (officially, the Fur Rendezvous). Where possible, riders matched throws to their floats, so riders on "St. Patrick Day" threw beads with a mug of green beer, and the beads with pink irises were wonderfully subtle. Traditionally, Iris gets bands from around the South, and this year was no exception. Memphis' Raleigh-Egypt High School Marching Pharaohs turned in a particularly inspired version of Falco's "Der Kommissar."

ISIS
Although not groundbreaking, the theme "Happiness Is" was cheerfully illustrated by "Fun in the Sun" (a beach vacation), "Wedding Day" (a large diamond ring) and "Day at the Circus" (a circus float, complete with riders in clown costumes). Not much here by way of high school bands, but Copeland's kicked off the procession with a roaring procession of motorized vehicles, including racecars and a monster truck. Kids had a great time with the abundance of throws, including puzzles, bags of chips, and paddle balls.

KING ARTHUR
Weatherman David Bernard threw doubloons with his likeness to lead the Krewe of King Arthur parade. The krewe's royalty floats are beautiful, particularly the "Merlin and Morgana" float, with a looming Merlin holding a star-and-crescent-topped wand. Keeping with an Arthurian sense of antiquity, the theme "Arthur's Ancient Atlas" saluted old countries, some of which no longer exist. An intriguing concept, though Rex Duke couldn't find "Druids" on any map he consulted. One of King Arthur's nicest touches was the inclusion of the Harrison Central High School marching band out of Gulfport, Miss., a band invited because it is the alma mater of this year's king, F. Lee Page. N.P. Trist of St. Bernard also shined, performing "Iko Iko." A few floats missed their title cards, but otherwise, a fine outing for Arthur.

KNIGHTS OF BABYLON
With the new "Gates of Ishtar" and "Temple of Marduk" floats, Babylon created two additional perennials to join its yearly "Hanging Gardens" and add a ceremonial element to the parade. Once again, flambeaux escorted the parade through the streets of Uptown. This year celebrating "A Frolic in Fairyland," the krewe did its homework, giving the riders of the "Thumbelina" float frog hats, though some of the fairies on the front of floats seemed more inspired by Vargas than by A Child's Garden of Verses. The jester beads and fiber optic beads lighting up Babylon's crest made for a nice blending of traditional and contemporary influences in the throws. Gregory Junior High's dance team pleased the crowd with its intricate maneuvers.

KNIGHTS OF JASON
Jason, still in its infancy as a krewe, put on a very respectable outing this year, honoring "Great Moments in History" such as Nostradamus' visions of the future, Caesar's wooing of Cleopatra, and Shakespeare's penning of Romeo and Juliet. Among the more impressive depictions of a pensive Noah regarding the white dove on his finger, a symbol of the flood waters receding. Costumes on the King Tut float included cobras on the headpieces, and krewes were generous in their throws. The Loyola Dance Team scored the highest kicks as they stepped out to Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative."

LE KREWE D'ETAT
With marchers wearing papier mache skulls leading the parade and handing out the satiric "Carnival Bulletin" -- a four-page paper illustrating and explaining the floats -- this year's Le Krewe d'Etat parade was off to a fine start. The theme, "Tarot d'Etat," was typically irreverent, although some references were a little complex for a parade on the move. The "Justice" float, with Eddie Jordan rendered like the Mad Hatter in a John Tenniel woodcut, was excellent, and "The Moon" float was similarly well-imagined and executed, with former mayor Moon Landrieu's face in the full moon leading the float and his political family on cards along the spine of the float. On the other hand, "The Star" really looked nothing like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a Ted Kennedy drinking joke seems a little dated in 2005 -- especially for this clever krewe. Le Krewe d'Etat is unquestionably in the upper echelon with its throws, including new signature light-up beads and the stuffed gargoyle, now with light-up eyes.

MERCURY
The theme -- "Mercury's Birthday Dreams" -- honored the krewe's 20th anniversary but led to disjointed floats, such as "New Orleans Dreams" and "Egyptian Dreams." Most handsome was "Dutch Dreams," with its large, realistic windmill. Still, uncostumed and unmasked riders, coupled with too many dance troupes grinding away to pop tunes like Cristina Aguilera's "Dirty," detracted from the Carnival spectacle.

MID-CITY
This year, the Krewe of Mid-City acknowledged the Super Bowl that would start by the end of its ride in its theme: "Just Another Super Sunday Š at the Movies." The title and the floats that followed it -- "ŒThe Last Mohicans' and ŒThe Texans'" and "Willie Wonka and the Cheese Packer Factory" -- weren't quite poetry, but the shining opulence of the Mid-City's foil-covered floats more than compensated, and the float titles were undoubtedly inventive ways to refer to NFL teams. Keeping with the football theme, local band Bag of Donuts rode on the "Halftime Show" float. Meanwhile, Memphis' Raleigh-Egypt Marching Pharaohs got in their own shout-out to last year's Super Bowl by playing Janet Jackson's "Black Cat."

MORPHEUS
Alas, the Krewe of Morpheus found itself in a tough spot this year. The storm on its traditional Tuesday forced the krewe to potentially ride in the rain or follow Muses, neither an enviable option. It opted for the latter, and the comparison and late start time didn't work in Morpheus' favor. Those who left after Muses missed a krewe that is a promising work in progress. From the large, pale green moon on the king's float to the same crescent moon on the float cards to the "Childhood Dreams" theme, there was a coherence that bodes well for the future. The riders threw well, but krewe medallion beads and light-up beads seemed in short supply.

MUSES
Your humble scribe had high hopes for a Muses parade titled, "Muse TV: We'll Turn You On," particularly on the -- ahem -- heels of last year's excellent "Weekly World Muse." The "Everybody Loves C. Raymond" float, with the New Orleans mayor on the front, bode well, but some floats seemed labored. "DragQueenNet," for example, was saved by cross-dressing Bunny Matthews' comic character Vic. Still, with lit-up balloons, the fiber optic shoe, flambeaux, ReBirth Brass Band, stiltwalkers, papier mache heads, the rock band Pink Slip, special guests the Go-Go's and multiple varieties of walking-dancing teams, Muses has become a spectacle in the best sense of the word. It also has the widest variety of throws, including various types of krewe beads -- some glass, others that light up -- plastic shoe bracelets and earrings, makeup kits, dolls, and, as a salute to Zulu, hand-painted shoes. Because of throws like these, kids love Muses -- which is also a reason why the parade should tone down the bawdy humor in its dance troupe names.

NAPOLEON
An hour-long break in the action -- a tractor breakdown seemed to have been the culprit -- broke Napoleon's momentum this year. But kudos to the visiting Eudora High School band for keeping the crowd entertained during the lull. Napoleon's "Tales for Tots" theme -- seen in floats honoring Jack and the Beanstalk and the Old Woman in the Shoe -- was appropriate fare for the many kids in attendance, but the ornate captain float dazzled the most.

NOMTOC
Once again, NOMTOC scores as one of the season's most generous parades, offering up sizable stuffed animals along with footballs, spears and other prize catches. The "NOMTOC's Movie Magic" theme led to attractive floats and costuming that honored everything from Victor/Victoria to SpongeBob Squarepants -- the latter float being especially generous with giant SpongeBob throws. Even well into the route, bands such as Israel M. Augustine middle school and hip-hop dancers such as Houston's Drumline kept their energy up. One reason might be the enthusiasm of NOMTOC's crowds, who line the route with parties and lots of turntables.

OKEANOS
Rex Duke salutes the band from John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. While marching in Okeanos, it played a rousing version of ReBirth Brass Band's "Do Whatcha Wanna." While far too many bands play the brief ESPN fanfare, Tyler livened up a parade route with a local classic. The parade's theme, "Events From the Past," took an impressionistic tour through history, from the "Dinosaur Era" (with a striking pinkish-purple triceratops) to Bonnie and Clyde (featuring Clyde's body spilling out of a blue getaway car). Riders were generous with spears and stuffed animals, but the parade's throwing accuracy wasn't matched by its spelling accuracy -- the float titles included a few boo-boos. Any krewe with the brilliant idea of making its cup commemorate the krewe's original route and riders can do a better job at spellchecking.

ORPHEUS
Is Orpheus cursed? It has faced torrential rain in recent years, and this year, after dodging rain, it suffered from two lengthy stoppages that slowed a beautiful and poetic procession. "Dance of the Hours" featured floats that moved from sunrise to sunset and on through the night, with floats like "Dawn, the Creation of Light," "Time to Toil and Prosper" and "The Sun Bird's Flight." In each case, designs were exquisite from front to back, with novel touches like a hanging chandelier near the front of "Lighting of the Lamps," and "The Veil of Night" including cherubs letting lavender drapes fall. Riders -- too many of which were maskless -- threw with energy, though Orpheus and Leviathan beads were less plentiful than usual. The members of Better Than Ezra compensated by throwing their fans medallion beads with the band's logo on it.

OSHUN
The elements haven't been kind to Oshun, and once again the parade that begins Carnival on the Uptown route braved the rain. Perhaps the weather influenced this year's aquatic theme, "A New Frontier Under the Sea" and the "Starfish" and "Orca" floats. It was nice to see such generosity from the riders, and the Nawlins Drama Squad brought a hip-hop sensibility to the parade. Still, the parade is dominated by maid and duke floats, making it a less satisfying bead-catching experience.

PEGASUS
"A Few of Our Favorite Things" seemed like a rather worn theme, but the Krewe of Pegasus made it work. The "Tweety & Sylvester" float was particularly well-rendered, with the cartoon cat hunched hungrily atop Tweety's birdcage. Costumes were nicely integrated into the "Fireworks" float, with riders wearing coil hats topped with red balls. Even if they looked more Dr. Seuss than pyrotechnic, the attempt to suggest explosion was valiant and fun. The maids wore stunning feather back pieces, and Pegasus' practice of interspersing them throughout the parade makes them an integral part of the spectacle. Rex Duke hardly fancies himself a prude or a scold, but he would have preferred that the young maid who threw the R-rated novelty beads in the heart of Uptown had saved them for a French Quarter balcony.

PONTCHARTRAIN
As marching band repertoires change with the times, Rex Duke was pleased to hear the Tulane University ROTC Band kick it old school with "The Land of 1,000 Dances." Pontchartrain continued its tradition of themes that test the parade-goer's memory with "What's Playing at the Show Tonight." The title card that read, "Brad Pitt and Diana Kruger in Š?" fairly obviously promised a Troy float, complete with a Trojan horse, but even your humble scribe had to consult Google to learn that the answer to "Ava Gardner and Richard Harris in Š?" was 1966's The Bible. The Abramson Commodores had fun on the march, and the Slidell High School marching band moved the crowd with its version of the Offspring's "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)."

PROTEUS
While Rex Duke has noted the scarcity of krewe-themed throws with some parades, the riders on Proteus can hardly be accused of scrimping on their signature seahorse beads. They flew by the dozens, perhaps an expression of Proteus' joy at returning after being rained out in 2004. Like Oshun and Pygmalion, Proteus faced rain for the second year in a row, but after a brief downpour, the night cleared, letting parade-goers appreciate the classic beauty of the floats. "Fables Famous and Familiar" allowed floats like "First Fables 1882," which featured a large, ornate, Asian-patterned fish. "The Fox and the Grapes" float took maximum advantage of Proteus' floats riding on wagon wheels, the New Orleans roads making the grapes swing out of reach of the fox trying to reach them overhead. You would think that a parade that had missed a year would be overeager, but that wasn't the case as Proteus started 35 minutes late.

PYGMALION
The Krewe of Pygmalion saluted Hollywood with this year's theme, "Break a Leg." With "Grease," "Heidi" and "Chicago" floats, all that was missing was a title float to announce the theme. McDonough 35 High School nicely performed Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom," and Alcee Fortier High School made the time between songs fun, chanting and high stepping with passion. The riders on "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" float might remember to stay masked, however.

REX
In a year when it was often feast or famine for krewe throws, leave it to Rex to show how it's done. After three floats, your humble scribe had seen three types of cups and four different Rex-specific beads, though none were so common that they lost their luster. The traditional purple, green and gold beads were thrown by the dozen, while newer, shinier versions of the signature beads were also fairly common. The theme, "Visions of Age-Old Cathay," was depicted in a series of beautiful floats that made a dramatic impression coming down the street. "Kublai Khan," for example, was led by a dragon's head, and its body made up the spine of the float. Unfortunately, the parade took a hit when the Jester Float hit a branch on Napoleon Avenue. Its large head survived, but laying down on the float, in a position many revelers might appreciate.

RHEA
A classical theme, "It's All Greek To Me," lent itself to classy presentations in floats that honored Adonis with a giant sunflower, and Poseidon with two purple seahorses. Togas served well as costumes, but too many riders went unmasked. Among one of the more unexpected sights of this year's Carnival: the rider from the Midas Touch float who scored a perfect ring toss, landing a pair of beads around a child's neck.

SATURN
For many, Wednesday night has become the best double-feature of Carnival with the emergence of Muses and Saturn. The development of the signature "Fat Lady" float seems to have focused this krewe and given it a satirical identity. This year's theme -- "See You in the Funny Papers" -- presented comic strip figures and related them to local politics, an ambitious concept that sometimes seemed like a reach. It's hard, for example, to see Gov. Kathleen Blanco as Spike TV's Stripperella. Still, the brashness is appealing. Riders rained Saturn medallions, light-up Saturn cornucopia beads and mini-Fat Lady bobble heads on the crowd below, and local rock band Supagroup roughhoused while shooting a video. Saturn is also commended for again setting aside a float for the families of soldiers fighting in Iraq.

SHANGRI-LA
On first blush, the Krewe of Shangri-La's theme -- "Cheers to Shangri-La" -- seemed to lack ambition, but as margarita and hurricane floats rolled down St. Charles Avenue, it became clear the theme highlighted the beverages with which people toast. It would have been nice if the parade's title wasn't partially obscured by a tractor driver, but that's one of the parade's few weaknesses this year. The riders had a lot of energy and threw a variety of Buddha-related beads including light-up beads, medallion beads, and apropos of the theme, Shangri-La champagne flutes and cordial glasses. The mixed gender hip-hop dance team the Superior Steppers lived up to the challenge written on the back of their T-shirts: "Step Right or Step Off."

SPARTA
The Krewe of Sparta made a classy, traditional appearance this year, with touches like flambeaux and the Sparta crest on all the signage. Its theme -- "I Hear a Symphony" -- also lent a touch of class, and the front pieces of the floats were routinely large and nicely stylized. The lion's head on "The Festival of Animals" recalled Broadway's The Lion King poster, and the star leading "The Planets" was a clear, bold design. It would, however, have been nice if Sparta medallions and light-up beads were more in evidence along the route.

THOR
"Thor's World Festivals" included nods to Latin music and St. Patrick's Day, but "Halloween" was the best of show: a giant ghoul, shrouded in blue lights, outstretched his arms, and a skull and tombstones finished off this elaborately sculpted homage to the holiday. But too few marching bands and generally lackluster dancers didn't help matters too much -- and far too many riders doffed their masks by the time the procession reached Causeway. (Note to King Thor: Yes, we heard you curse at the onlooker when the parade reached Lake Villa Drive. Talk about thunder!)

THOTH
The riders of the Krewe of Thoth brought their usual enthusiasm to the long and winding road the parade travels -- and kudos to this krewe for keeping its idiosyncratic neighborhood route. Fortunately, Mardi Gras rock band Pink Slip picked up the slack, as did New York City's Hungry Marching Band. The "Brazil" float fit the "Thoth Travels Below the Equator" theme, but as striking as the red and green peppers were at the front of the float, they're more commonly associated with Mexico. We can only assume the "Delacroix Island" float is a krewe in-joke. As usual, the members of Thoth threw beads and other trinkets by the handful, but krewe-specific beads were in shorter supply than in previous years.

TUCKS
Scolding Tucks for its maskless riders is a Mardi Gras tradition seemingly as old as king cake, so why should this year be any different? The theme, "Tucks Premieres Big Easy SINema," was little more than an excuse to string together a series of film floats, but the parade succeeded as always on raw energy and marginal taste. On those scores, it delivered as usual, though more in quantity than its usual variety of throws. The "Funky Tucks" float got the crowd moving with funk music, dancing girls in cages and float-specific beads, while "Peter Pain and the Lost Boys" -- a pirate ship, complete two crow's nest positions -- added an element of spectacle. Samba Brasilena from San Antonio, Texas were one of the most impressive dance teams of Mardi Gras. And riders could, with some work, be persuaded to toss a toy squirty toilet even to adults.

ZEUS
After a weather-related rescheduling last year, Zeus endured a few showers on its return to its traditional Monday night. A globally themed "Exotic Destinations" was well illustrated by Antarctica's iceberg float and Mozambique's flamingos, and the bands were in fine form, despite the rain. The horse-drawn king's and calliope float provided a nod to tradition from Metairie's oldest parade, and this year's riders did a much better job staying masked.

ZULU
Despite its well-publicized switch to lighter coconuts due to insurance rate increases, Zulu brought back its perennials in this year's outing, titled "Zulu Goes to the Movies." The theme was illustrated by floats such as "Zulu Wizards," which saluted Harry Potter by adding black capes to the traditional Zulu attire. But the signature floats still carried the day, especially the Governor's float, with cigar-chomping riders wearing top hats on their wigs and colorful tuxedo jackets above their grass skirts. Joseph S. Clark's drum section kept the throngs dancing -- when they weren't reaching for the new featherweight coconuts.

The Kazumba Drum and Dance Group from San Antonio, Texas, brought a festive groove to this year's Iris parade. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • The Kazumba Drum and Dance Group from San Antonio, Texas, brought a festive groove to this year's Iris parade.
Making a Hobbit of it: Bacchus XXXVII Sean Astin -- accompanied by last year's Bacchus Elijah Wood -- helped nudge the superkrewe into Rex Duke?'s top parade ranking. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Making a Hobbit of it: Bacchus XXXVII Sean Astin -- accompanied by last year's Bacchus Elijah Wood -- helped nudge the superkrewe into Rex Duke?'s top parade ranking.
Rex's Jester Float took a hit and had to finish this year's parade lying down -- a position many revelers might appreciate. - DAVID RAE MORRIS
  • David Rae Morris
  • Rex's Jester Float took a hit and had to finish this year's parade lying down -- a position many revelers might appreciate.

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