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8 posts from February 2010

February 25, 2010

Take up the challenge

Banner-kac-633 The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has done all kinds of good both at home and around the nation.  The foundation has awarded millions in grant money to support innovative journalism and community programs -- and, here in South Florida, to support arts groups, institutions and individuals with creative ideas that can benefit those who live here.

Precious little of the grant money in the first two years of the Knight Arts Challenge, however, has gone to funding theater-related programs.  Teatro Avante was among the 2009 winners, getting a grant to add a Latin American theater conference to the 25th annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival coming up in July.  And other than a 2008 grant to Miami Light Project for its annual Here & Now Festival, that's about it, theater-wise.

So if you work in theater and have a great idea, now would be the time to put a proposal  together and submit it. The 2010 Knight Arts Challenge has a March 15 deadline, and on March 9, there's an information session at the LIttle Haiti Cultural Complex, 260 NE 59th Terrace, Miami.

As the Challenge promotional materials note, the requirements are simple: 1. Your idea has to be about the arts; 2.  The project has to take place in or benefit South Florida; 3.  You have to raise matching funds.

How about it, theater folks?  For more info, visit the Knight Arts Challenge web site.

February 24, 2010

A free musical at Barry

CharlieBrown1 copy It isn't unusual for a play reading to be free.  But a lavishly designed musical? That's something special.

From Thursday through Sunday, Barry University's Department of Fine Arts is presenting the 1999 Broadway version of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  The original Clark Gesner-John Gordon musical, which features the core gang from Charles M. Schultz's Peanuts comic strip (Lucy van Pelt, her brother Linus, Schroeder, Sally Brown, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and the man himself, Charlie Brown), got an update with new dialogue by Michael Mayer and additional songs/orchestrations by Andrew Lippa.

Assistant theater professor John Manzelli directs the student cast.  Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Broad Center for the Performing Arts at Barry, 11300 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.  Call 305-899-3291 for information  or visit the Barry web site for directions.

February 22, 2010

An ambitious new season at Actors' Playhouse

Nilo Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables, whose 2009 production of Les Misérables is leading the Carbonell Awards race with a dozen nominations, is busily preparing for the March 5 opening of the other Claude-Michel Schonberg/Alain Boublil megamusical, Miss Saigon

Still, executive director Barbara Stein and artistic director David Arisco have made time to choose five of the six shows for the company's 2010-2011 season -- and, simply put, it is potentially the best in the award-winning theater's long history.

Actors' Playhouse, as anyone who has followed its work through the years would tell you, is known for its way with big, crowd-pleasing musicals.  Small-cast musicals, the rare risky show (like Violet and Floyd Collins) and the occasional play (such as last season's Havana Bourgeois, starring Danny Pino of Cold Case) balance out its lineups.  But challenging fare has been the exception rather than the rule at Actors'.

Next season, however, is intriguing, surprising and exciting.

It kicks off Oct. 6-Nov. 7 with the world premiere of a new work by Miami's own Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Nilo Cruz.  Cruz, whose acclaimed Anna in the Tropicswas commissioned by Actors' tiny Coral Gables neighbor New Theatre, has written a play set in Havana in 1960.  The Color of Desire, which has had staged readings at Florida Stage's 1st Stage New Works festival and a several other major theaters, is a poetic, sensuous drama about an American businessman and a young actress in a rapidly changing Cuba.

Next is the season's intended crowd-pleaser, Oliver!, Lionel Bart's ever-popular Tony Award-winning musical treatment of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, running Nov. 17-Dec. 26.  After that comes the professional regional debut of William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin's Tony-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which was recently a sold-out hit for the talented young conservatory students at Coral Gables' Area Stage. Spelling Bee will run at Actors' Jan. 19-Feb. 13, 2011. 

Tracy00_prize_wknd_JMThen, the big surprise:  Actors' will take on the challenge of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning August: Osage County.  Letts' sprawling, thrilling 2007 play about a disintegrating extended family features a cast of 13, and it's the kind of well-made dramatic classic that Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams used to write. It will run at Actors' March 9-April 10, 2011, and with the Cruz premiere, it suggests a more ambitious, well-rounded programming shift at Actors'.

Following August: Osage County, Actors' will tackle a comic thriller that just played Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, the Tony-winning Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.  In that one, a cast of four reenacts an entire Hitchcock movie about a sultry, soon-murdered spy and a man on the run.  It plays May 11-June 5, and will be followed by a yet-to-be-chosen musical July 13-Aug. 21.

Since its 1988 beginnings in a former movie theater in Kendall, Actors' Playhouse has evolved and prospered, winning numerous Carbonell Awards, attracting a loyal audience and, most impressively, beautifully restoring its current home at the Miracle Theatre on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.  Since the abrupt closing of the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 2006, Actors' has been the largest resident theater in South Florida, but more often than not, the theater has played it safe when it comes to programming. The choices for 2010-2011 make a different statement -- and a welcome one.

For information on the new season or Miss Saigon, call the box office at 305-444-9293 or visit the Actors' Playhouse web site.

(Joan Marcus photo from Broadway production of August: Osage County.)

February 18, 2010

Dramatic, multicultural Miami

MELT 1 (CAST)Michael McKeever was onto something when he wrote Melt, a 2007 drama about six diverse people who call Miami home.  The script, which premiered at New Theatre in Coral Gables, went on to win the 2008 Carbonell Award as best new work.  And those who saw it thought it presented such a provocative, conversation-starting portrait of this melting pot of a city that Leadership Miami revived the play for an audience of nearly 900 high school students at Miami's Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in March 2009.

Flash forward to this weekend and next.  Still believing in the power of the play, some Leadership Miami alumni got involved in bringing it back for a longer run.  So Melt will run through Feb. 28 in the upstairs Balcony Theatre at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables (and there's a preview performance at 8 tonight).

MELT 4 (MELTZER McKEEVER SCRIPT) Teresa Maria Rojas plays a Latina mother who came to Miami on a Peter Pan flight. Javier Siut is her son. a savvy political operative working for developers. John Felix is a Jewish dad, Nick Richberg his son, a gay high school teacher who dreams of adopting a child.  Tara Vodihn and Reiss Gaspard play sister and brother; she's a lawyer and activist, he's a nurse who happens to be the teacher's partner.

McKeever's own partner, Stuart Meltzer (who originated the teacher role in the world premiere production), is directing Melt

The tickets to Melt range from $20 for students to $25 for seniors to $30 for regular admission.  But because those involved feel so strongly about younger audiences seeing and talking about the play, Culture Shock Miami is offering a limited number of tickets to theatergoers from 13 to 22 for just $5.

The show goes on at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables.  For information and tickets, call the Actors' Playhouse box office at 305-444-9293, visit the theater's web site or check out the Melt web site.

February 16, 2010

Carbonell nominations revealed

Two17_speed_pepl_ho This morning brought news of the nominations for the 34th annual Carbonell Awards, South Florida's version of the Tonys or the Joseph Jefferson Awards or the Helen Hayes Awards or however you want to look at them -- though I think by now the Carbonells are as well-known nationally.  I say "news" because I'm not on the nominating/judging panel, so the long list of names was just as much of a surprise to me as to anyone who wasn't in the secret room last night where the tough decisions got made.

For a full list of those honored with nominations, check out my online story.

I'm posting a photo of Paul Tei and Gregg Weiner (and Amy Elane Anderson) in GableStage's Speed-the-Plow, because both guys have reason to smile today. Tei got nominated as best director for Broadsword at his own company, Mad Cat, and for his leading performance in Speed-the-Plow.  Weiner did even better: a best actor nod for Dumb Show at Promethean, two best supporting nominations for A Doll's Houseat Palm Beach Dramaworks and Farragut Northat GableStage, and a chance to share in a best ensemble win for Farragut North or Broadsword.  Wonder if Weiner, who played the devil in Broadsword, really does have magical powers....Just kidding, but I'm thinking he'll be buying a lot of drinks for his friends come April 12, which is when the winners will be revealed.

All in all, it's a pretty solid list of nominations, though I would have paid more attention to Rock 'n' Roll and Dead Man's Cell Phone at Mosaic, and might have pushed for The Glass Menagerie or Mauritiusat New Theatre. 

Amy London will again direct the Carbonell Awards show, which happens at 7:30 p.m. April 12 in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center.  Tickets go on sale Friday and cost $25 ($20 each for groups of 10 or more).  Check it out (on Friday) at the Broward Center's site. 

February 09, 2010

Those actors are real

Stage_wkend05_Mahalia00021Here's another in a continuing -- and apparently endless -- series of complaints about audience behavior. Or why going to the theater is often not as fun/entertaining/transformative as it should be.

Last week a friend and I went to see Mahalia at M Ensemblein North Miami. I don't think much of Tom Stolz's lightweight script, but I have to say that the gospel performances by Johnny Sanders, Christina Alexander (as gospel queen Mahalia Jackson) and Francine Ealey Murphy are immensely enjoyable.  Or they would be, if people didn't behave as though they were at the movies and/or in their living rooms.

It's not the call-and-response interaction that's bothersome; that church-style engagement is intended and appropriate for Mahalia. What bugged, at least on opening night, were the woman who kept right on talking at full volume as the cast began to sing; the young woman who got up to answer her cell phone, and exited (walking right past the actors) to keep yakking in the lobby (at least she left); the young man who did the same; the lady, right across the aisle, who started playing a game on her phone when she got bored.  Not to mention the people who came back from intermission late, and walked right past the actors in the other direction to go back to their seats.  By comparison, a pair of toddlers in the audience were absolute angels.

Yes, it's a different world today.  We all have phones/internet so we can be reached 24/7, because heaven help us if we're out of touch for more than a minute.  But theater isn't a sporting event, a concert, a movie.  It's actors and their fellow artists trying to transport us into their world. 

At the risk of sounding like a cranky snoot (OK, I'll take that), this is theater, people. Those are real, live performers up there, trying to create a specific world that doesn't involve you walking out with your cell phone screen glowing.  Show some respect -- for them and for the rest of us.

February 08, 2010

A different 'Midsummer'

Midsummer3 Shakespeare meets Santería when the college theater students at Miami's New World School of the Arts debut a reinterpreted Midsummer Night's Dream Feb. 12-21. 

Faculty member Andrew Noble, collaborating with New World costume designer Estela Vrancovich, got the idea for the different approach to William Shakespeare's enduringly popular comedy from innovative productions he, colleagues and students experienced in London last spring.  In reexamining the play, Noble writes, "I saw a darker, earthier, more malevolent/mischievous domain."

Senior Renata Eastlick plays the Titania role, here renamed the orisha Ochún; junior Edson Jean plays Eleguá, a different take on Puck.  Dance division faculty member Peter London worked with the cast to create movement and dances for the production.

A Midsummer Night's Dreamwill be performed in the Louise O. Gerrits Theatre at New World, 25 NE Second St., Miami.  Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $12 (just $5 for students and seniors).  Call 305-237-3541 or visit New World's web site.

February 04, 2010

Theater on a Monday

Monday is the traditional "dark" night in theater, the one evening of the week when most actors have the night off (though some love filling their Mondays with readings and benefits and the like).  But just in case you can't get enough theater, this Monday, Feb. 8, brings a show and a reading at opposite ends of South Florida's sprawling theater community.

Bill W Gary Ken Richard The play-with-a-message is Bill W. and Dr. Bob by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey.  The drama about stockbroker Bill Wilson and surgeon Bob Smith traces the lives of the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, and director-star Gary Kimble says he feels a personal connection to the material.

"I myself am a recovering alcoholic.  So is the actor who plays Dr. Bob in our production.  The two of us traveled the world together performing opposite one another in...My Fair Lady.  He was already sober at the time; I was not. I hit bottom shortly after that tour ended," Kimble writes.

His friend, Richard Davis Springle, took Kimble to rehab three times before Kimble got sober 14 years ago.  Producers of the show, which is running at the Crest Theatre Feb. 8-10 and Feb. 15-17, are donating a portion of ticket sales to three organizations that assist people in recovery.  Performances at the Crest, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach, are 7:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 2 p.m. Wednesday.  Tickets are $29 and $30 evenings, $28 and $35 matinees.  Call 561-243-7922 or visit the Crest web site.

(In photo, left to right, are Gary Kimble as Bill Wilson, Ken Johnson as Billy and Richard Davis Springle as Dr. Bob Smith.)


ASJFeatureFeb_events Also on Monday, you can get into a pre-Valentine's Day romantic mood with a free play-reading event at Arts at St. John's, 4760 Pine Tree Dr., Miami Beach.  Six short plays will be read beginning at 7 p.m.:  A Test for a Valentine by Dennis Bass, Noteworthy by Allen Provost, Quickmeet by Barbara Fox, Peeling Off the Mask by Maria Schwartz, Internet Dating by Jonathan Rose and Still Crazyby Dee Deringer Piquette.

The actors doing the plays include playwrights Bass, Piquette and Fox, as well as Heather Gallagher, Justin Mellender, Ralphy Love, Joanne Kerbawy and Shelly Cohen.  The "Love and Romance" play reading is the first in a themed second-Monday series, with "Mystery"  to follow March 8 and "Money" April 12.

Need more info?  Call 305-613-2325 or visit the Arts at St. John's site.