May 11, 2012

'Houdini' conjures up an extra matinee

Death and Harry Houdini2_DennisWatkins_photobyMichaelBrosilowHow successful is the run of the House Theater of Chicago's Death and Harry Houdini at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts? So successful that every performance in the Carnival Studio Theater run, which winds up May 20, is sold out.

But fans of theater, magic and/or the House just got lucky.  The Arsht has added a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, May 19, so that's one more chance to see the charismatic actor-magician Dennis Watkins playing history's greatest illusionist.

Tickets are $45, and you can get them by calling 305-949-6722 or visiting the center's web site. Get 'em before they, like Houdini, disappear.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

December 01, 2011

Castellanos shares his creative style

Teo Catsellanos Photo by Randy ValdesTeo Castellanos is a creative chameleon.  Playwright, director, actor, dancer and artistic director of D-Projects, the multifaceted artist is also a compelling teacher, one who mentored and helped launch Miami playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney on his path to international acclaim.

Castellanos, who appeared at GableStage this fall in McCraney's searing drama The Brothers Size, will perform again in Miami Jan. 19-21 when he brings the 10th anniversary edition of his award-winning solo show NE 2nd Avenue to the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  But first, from Sunday through Tuesday, Castellanos will share his wealth of experience in a workshop titled Crossing Thresholds: Creating Original Work.

The sessions take place at the PlayGround Theatre, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.  For a $65 fee, participants ages 16 and older can spend three hours each evening with Castellanos, developing original work or refining a work in progress.  Students should wear movement clothes and dance shoes, or go barefoot.  The sessions are from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, 7 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.  For information, call Suzana Berger at 305-751-9550, ext. 260, or email her at

(Photo by Randy Valdes)

August 26, 2011

Menzel, Esparza coming to Arsht Center

Idina photo A pair of Broadway stars, Idina Menzel and Raúl Esparza, will give concerts this season at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

First up is Menzel, the Tony Award-winning star of Wicked -- she was the complicated green heroine Elphaba in the original Broadway production.  And she played Rachel's lookalike mom on Fox's Glee

With a full orchestra, Menzel will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Knight Concert Hall, singing rock, pop, jazz and Broadway songs.  Last spring, her hubby (Practice star Taye Diggs, whom she met when the two were in the original cast of Rent) performed his nightclub show at the Arsht's Prelude by Barton G.  Now it's Menzel's turn.

Act07 Babalu Dade CWG Also headed to the Arsht is Esparza, the Miami-raised star who stole the show in Babalu and performed at the Arsht's five-year anniversary celebration.  At his 8 p.m. concert Feb. 11, 2012, the four-time Tony nominee will perform the show that won him raves at Lincoln Center this past season, singing everything from Cuban music to Broadway songs.

Tickets for each concert range from $50 to $125.  They go on sale to Arsht Center members on Monday, to the public on Sept. 18.  The Arsht is located at 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.  For information (starting Monday), phone the Arsht box office at 305-949-6722 or visit the center's web site.

April 27, 2011

Cruz, Tune headed to UM

Cruz11_MHD_CM The University of Miami's Jerry Herman Ring Theatre just ended its season with an impressive production of Pal Joey, but theater department chair (and Ring producing artistic director) Henry Fonte has more -- much more -- in store for the 2011-2012 season.

South Florida's own Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Nilo Cruz, will be in residence at UM in September as one of the university's Stanford Distinguished Professors.  He'll teach, do a public presentation, and the Ring will present his 1994 play Night Train to Bolina (Sept. 14-24), a piece about a boy and girl in a war-torn Latin American country.

Next, UM's theater department will join forces with the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts for a production of Federico García Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba (Oct. 13-30).  Professional actors will play Bernarda Alba and her housekeeper La Poncia, and UM students will play the daughters.  Fonte will direct the production, which will be in the Arsht's Carnival Studio Theater.

Multiple Tony Award winner Tommy Tune returns Nov. 9-19 with playwright Mark Salzman for a full production of Project 54, the show they workshopped at UM in January.  The piece is a music- and dance-filled look at the golden days of the famed Manhattan club Studio 54 and founder Steve Rubell.  It's a world Tune knew well:  He lived one block over and stopped by the disco nearly every night, back in the day.

A revival of the Edna Ferber-George S. Kaufman comedy Stage Door plays the Ring Feb. 15-25, followed by a production of the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum April 11-28.  Want info? Visit the Ring's web site.

(Miami Herald photo of Nilo Cruz by Charles Mostoller)

January 24, 2011

Jai Rodriguez to headline Summer Shorts

Jai-event Miami's City Theatre celebrated its 15th anniversary last summer with the world premiere of the full-length family-friendly musical Camp Kappawannaby Lisa Loeb.  So how to top that for the Sweet Sixteen summer of 2011?  Bring in Jai Rodriguez, actor and TV personality, to lend some extra buzz to the Summer Shorts acting company.

Rodriguez, one of the stars of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (he also scored Broadway replacement gigs in Rent and The Producers), will headline this summer's company.  His fellow actors, according to festival artistic director John Manzelli, are Gregg Weiner, Finnerty Steeves, Ceci Fernandez and Steve Trovillion, a.k.a. "Mr. Summer Shorts." The summer's directors will be Manzelli, Trovillion, Barry Steinman, Gail Garrisan and Margaret Ledford.

Manzelli adds that the festival, which will be in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts June 3-26 (and at the Broward Center June 30-July 3), will include three late-night performances of Rodriguez' solo show Dirty Little Secrets, presented in partnership with Out in the Tropics.  The regular Summer Shorts lineup will feature nine pieces.

As a fund-raising kickoff, Rodriguez is coming to Miami Feb. 10 for a reception and sneak preview of the summer fare.  Manzelli says the actor will sing, others will read from a few plays that will be done at the festival, and there will be drinks and food.

The fund-raising event is at 6 p.m. Feb. 10  on the 30th floor of Sabadell United Bank, 1111 Brickell Ave., Miami.  Admission is $60 per person.  RSVP by Feb. 1 to City Theatre executive director Barry Steinman by calling 305-755-9401, ext. 15, or emailing

January 13, 2011

A star tops M Ensemble's 'Crowns'

Crowns Cast Don Seward, Yaya Browne, Lela Elam,Christina Alexander,Paulette Dozier, Chiquila Brown, Melba Moore photo by Deborah Gray Mitchell M Ensemble is between homes, having left its North Miami theater at the end of last season and awaiting its move into the Miami Light Project's new Wynwood space; there the black theater troupe, South Florida's oldest still-operating professional company, will be one of MLP's anchor arts groups.  But in the meantime comes news of a high-profile production of Regina Taylor's gospel musical Crowns:  M Ensemble will present a short run of the show Feb. 2-6 as a coproduction with Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.   Anchoring the cast of South Florida performers is a Tony Award-winning star, singer-actress Melba Moore.

Inspired by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's book Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, Taylor's musical tells the story of a young Brooklyn woman sent to live with her grandmother in South Carolina after her brother's murder.  Surrounded by her churchgoing grandmother and four aunts -- all of whom wear elaborate hats, or "crowns," to church -- the tough-talking city girl has a slow but real spiritual awakening, aided by the poetry and stylistically varied songs her relatives share.

Joining Moore in the cast are Lela Elam, Yaya Browne, Christina Alexander, Paulette Dozier, Chiquila Brown and Don Seward.  John Pryor, a frequent M Ensemble director, is staging the production, with musical direction by jazz percussionist Howard Moss and choreography by Joshua Eason.

Tickets to Crowns, which plays in the Arsht's Carnival Studio Theater, are $34.  Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Call (305) 949-6722 or visit the Arsht web site for information.

December 30, 2010

Broadway stars at Prelude

Cheyenne Jackson Headshot If you're still casting about for a way to spend New Year's Eve or New Year's night -- and if you don't mind parting with some serious bucks -- the entrepreneurial Barton G. Weiss (yes, that Barton G) has cooked up an enticing, sophisticated option.  Every so often, for a couple of nights each time, he's turning his Adrienne Arsht Center eatery Prelude into what must be Miami's swankiest supper club.

Actor-singer Cheyenne Jackson kicks off the series Friday and Saturday with (based on the three numbers I heard at a press preview today) a varied set of songs and stories, like the one he told about growing up poor in Idaho in a house without running water or an indoor bathroom.  Which is true, though his mom thinks that's too much sharing.

Jackson has two movies coming out in 2011 (Smile and The Green).  He's on 30 Rock and Glee, and soon will add Curb Your Enthusiasm to his TV resume.  His Broadway credits include Xanadu and Finian's Rainbow. In October, he and Michael Feinstein sold out Carnegie Hall with their show The Power of Two.

Judging from Jackson's mini-set -- Feeling Good from The Roar of the Greasepaint, Joni Mitchell's A Case of You and Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come -- Prelude is as viable a supper club (with excellent sound) as it as an upscale restaurant. 

Future evenings will feature Tony Award winner Karen Olivo (Jan. 13-15) and Hair star Gavin Creel (Jan. 21-22).

The price tag for Jackson's gig ranges from $75 for standing room (with a two-drink minimum) to $295 for dinner and show on New Year's Eve.  For info, call 305-357-7900 or go to the Arsht Center's web site.

September 09, 2010

Esparza to headline Arsht Center gala

Raul_EsparzaRaúl Esparza, the four-time Tony Award nominee who stole the show when he appeared in Babalu at the Adrienne Arsht Center in July (sorry, but he did), made quite an impression on both audiences and the honchos at Miami's performing arts palace.  Now he's been tapped to headline the center's fifth anniversary gala Oct. 28, with tables at the benefit going for $10,000, individual tickets for $1,000.  And you thought Broadway tickets were pricey.

Esparza is a busy, busy man these days.  On Saturday, he begins previews of the Broadway-bound musical Leap of Faithat the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, with the opening set for Oct. 3 and a run through Oct. 24.  Then it's on to Miami, then back to New York to get ready for Broadway.

He is, of course, playing the lead in the Alan Menken-Glenn Slater musical, which is based on the 1992 movie starring Steve Martin.  Esparza plays Jonas Nightengale, a charismatic fake faith healer who has a life-changing experience in a drought-stricken Kansas town.  His leading lady is Brooke Shields, who broke her hand (but not too badly) during rehearsals.

If you saw Babalu, you know that Esparza (who earned two of his Tony nominations for his work in the musicals Company and Taboo) is a powerful, captivating, dramatic singer.  If you want to part with some serious bucks to see him at the gala (proceeds benefit the Arsht's education and community outreach programs), call 786-468-2020 or email


Tarell_McCraney_(Large) On the heels of GableStage's announcement that it will include the South Florida premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size in its 2010-2011 season comes more intriguing news.  Artistic director Joseph Adler has persuaded the in-demand playwright to direct his reputation-making piece here.

The Brothers Size, one of the three dramas in McCraney's Brother/Sister Plays, is the last show in the new season, running Aug. 27-Sept. 25, 2011.  McCraney and Adler have already cast one of the three roles: Teo Castellanos, the playwright-performer who got the teenage McCraney into theater and became his mentor, will be in his former student's poetic, haunting drama.

For info on the GableStage season, call the box office at 305-445-1119 or visit the theater's web site.

August 23, 2010

Arsht expands Carnival programming

Scott Shiller, executive vice president of Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, has long wanted the center's Carnival Studio Theater to be a place where high-quality theater from many sources -- local, national, international -- could be showcased. For 2010-2011, Shiller thinks he's found a blend that will be successful with what he calls "the three a's:" artists, audiences and accountants (the latter signifying solid business at the box office).  The Arsht's investment in the Carnival programming? An estimated $1.1 million.

Shiller has loosely grouped the Carnival's offerings into three categories:  partnerships with South Florida arts groups, new work, and critically acclaimed theater from elsewhere.  Some of the offerings include dance and performance art, Herald critic Jordan Levin's specialty, but there's plenty of theater news to share here.

Kristina Production Photo The Best of South Florida programming starts Nov. 18-20 with Mad Cat Theatre's production of actor-comedian Kristina Wong's Going Green the Wong Way.  Wong's piece, which she is shaping under Mad Cat artistic director Paul Tei's guidance, is about the pitfalls of a dedication to green living, one in which her dead  biodiesel car leaves her at the mercy of a less-than-reliable public transportation system.  Tickets go on sale to Arsht Center members Aug. 30, to everyone else Sept. 12.

SOUTH BEACH BABYLON 2 The births of a new theater company and a new play coincide when Zoetic Stagepremieres Michael McKeever's South Beach Babylon Dec. 2-12The comedy by the Carbonell Award-winning McKeever explores the lives of five South Beach artists int he weeks leading up to the chic insanity that is Art Basel.

Miami's M Ensemble will present Regina Taylor's Crowns -- a play about the culture clash that happens when a Brooklyn girl with a hip-hop sensibility is sent to live with her South Carolina grandmother after her brother's death -- at the Carnival.  The production happens during Black History Month in February, with exact dates still being worked out.

Also back as part of the Best of South Florida lineup at the Carnival are City Theatre's Summer Shorts festival (June 2-26) and Teatro Avante's XXVI International Hispanic Theatre Festival (July 7-24).

The Carnival's new works lineup are all dance/performance art pieces, so we'll skip to the theater stuff.

Catwalk Forbidden Broadway, with new material sending up the likes of In the Heights, Jersey Boys and Young Frankenstein (all scheduled to play South Florida this season), returns Dec.14-26.  David Lamb's From the Auction Block to Hip Hop, the followup to his popular Carnival hit Platanos and Collard Greens, plays Feb. 3-6.  Catwalk Confidential, a solo show by Miami Beach-raised supermodel Robyn Peterson, comes to the Carnival March 17-20.

That show will be followed by a long run (April 7-May 1) of The Sparrow, a hit play by Chicago's House Theatre. The piece, about a girl who returns home 10 years after being the sole survivor of a tragic accident that killed all her classmates, is an imaginative mystery in the vein of TV's Heroes.  Last in the lineup is Celebrity Autobiography (May 5-15), a show in which the famous read from celeb memoirs with comic results that the original authors probably didn't intend (the stars who will do the deed in Miami haven't been announced yet).

Several shows go on sale to Arsht Center members Aug. 30, to everybody else Sept. 12.  Call the box office at 305-949-6722 or visit the center's web site for more info.

July 12, 2010

Ailing McConnell, teaching Raul

Secret_Order Gordon McConnell, one of South Florida's finest actors, became ill after performing Saturday's matinee of Secret Order at the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton.  He was hospitalized and, though he's expected to be released today, there's no word one when or if he might be returning to the play.  No definitive word either on why he became ill.

Though Saturday evening's performance was canceled, director Tom Bloom stepped into McConnell's role, playing a research lab director opposite the young scientist played by Nick Duckart.  Bloom is to continue performing, book in hand, this week, though he hopes to be off book -- to have the role memorized -- late this week.

The irony here is that in March, it was McConnell who came to the rescue when a different Caldwell actor became ill.  David Pendleton, who was playing the title role in The Old Man and the Sea, was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, and McConnell took over.  Here's hoping that this terrific actor is back in action soon.  For Caldwell info, visit the theater's web site; the show runs through Aug. 1.


Raul07_Babalu_Dade_CWGRaúl Esparza just finished his brief run in Babalu at the Arsht Center, and he's soon heading for Los Angeles to star in the Broadway-bound musical Leap of Faith.

But before the Miami-raised four-time Tony Award nominee leaves his hometown, he's making time to give back to a program that gave much to him (he participated in YoungArts in 1988 and received an alumni award in 2009).  From 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Esparza will deliver a workshop titled Approaching Broadway to talented high school students as part of YoungArts Miami's regional summer program.  Students will learn how to "act" a song as they present two short excerpts from Broadway songs (bring sheet music).  Esparza requested that one of the two be by Stephen Sondheim, an artist whose work the actor knows well:  He starred in both Sunday in the Park With George and Merrily We Roll Along during the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration, then went on to earn one of his Tony nominations for playing Bobby in the Broadway revival of Company.

Participation is limited to Miami-Dade high school students, who must pre-register by emailing or calling 305-377-1140, ext. 1309.  Space is limited, and the session takes place at the Peacock Education Center in the Arsht's Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

(Esparza photo by the Miami Herald's C.W. Griffin)