October 19, 2010

'Tis the season

Hurricane-_(110) Though the arts have been a year-round thing in Florida for a long, long time -- don't call us snowbirds -- it's easy to tell that the Season (with a capital "S") has begun once the calendar has flipped from September to October.  I know this because (in addition to working more than a month without an entire day off) I had an extraordinary three days last week, days and evenings full of moving arts experiences that made me love my job even more. If that's possible.

First I zipped across Alligator Alley to Sarasota to take in several performances at the second Ringling International Arts Festival.  If you've not been to the Ringling Museum of Art (and if not, whynot?), you've missed a Florida treasure on 66 acres by Sarasota Bay.  In addition to the museum, with its collection of rare Old Master paintings (plus modern and contemporary art), you'll find Ca d'Zan (the former home of circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable), the Circus Museum, the historic Asolo Theater (a gorgeous restored 18th century Italian theater inside the museum's Visitors' Center) and the FSU Center for the Performing Arts (home to the Asolo Repertory Theatre, where the new musical Bonnie & Clyde  will kick off the season Nov. 16-Dec. 19).

BaryshnikovOn the festival's kickoff Night of Premieres -- violinist Tim Fain playing a new piece by Philip Glass, the Czech Forman Brothers doing a snazzy operatic puppet show, the debut of Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz's newest play Hurricane, and the night's hottest ticket, solo pieces danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov and David Neumann -- I chose the Cruz's Hurricane, a still-evolving piece about a Caribbean family in crisis after a storm.  It is always a thrill to be part of a first audience, even more so if the man responsible for it all happens to be a Miamian and the first Latino winner of the drama Pulitzer.  And if you can talk to him before and after, which is one of the bonuses of hanging out at a festival.

The next afternoon, I saw Baryshnikov (whose Manhattan-based Baryshnikov Arts Center copresents the festival with the Ringling) and Neumann (a witty, intriguing dancer-choreographer) dance their solos program.  I had seen the younger Baryshnikov (that's him in the photo) dance at Jackie Gleason Theater almost 30 years ago, when his then-girlfriend Jessica Lange was pregnant with their daughter Aleksandra (I remember because Lange and I both visited the ladies' room at intermission).  But to see one of the world's great dancers, now 62, perform again was so moving that I nearly got teary -- particularly as he danced the program's final solo, Benjamin Millepied's Years Later.  Dancing on a bare stage as black-and-white film of a 16-year-old, Baryshnikov dazzled behind him, the mature dancer still thrilled.  He remains a superb actor-dancer capable of communicating emotion -- resignation, acceptance, inspiration -- with the smallest movements and experience-honed technique.   And (thanks to that special festival mixing-and-mingling thing) Baryshnikov and I were part of the same audience for the Forman Brothers' Opera Baroque.

Tarell London On Friday, it was back across Alligator Alley and down to Miami to catch playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney's birthday gift to his high school alma mater, the New World School of the Arts.  About to turn 30 (which he did last Sunday), McCraney decided to throw a fundraiser to help graduating seniors travel to the auditions required for college and acting-program admissions.  The result was both a financial success (the event raised $5,380) and one of the most dramatically potent play readings I've ever attended.

Reading scenes from all three of his breakthrough Brother/Sister Plays -- In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet-- McCraney and actors Glenn Davis (whose theater credits include productions at Canada's Stratford Festival, Chicago's Steppenwolf and Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum) and Sterling Brown (a theater, movie and TV veteran currently playing Dr. Roland Burton on the series Army Wives) brought the excerpts to vivid life.  McCraney, a fine actor (though he's way too busy as a playwright to perform any more), was so intense and tormented during a Brothers Size speech that he brought the audience -- and himself -- to tears.  The taste of his talent made his listeners impatient for next summer, when GableStage will present the South Florida debut of The Brothers Size, with McCraney directing.

 The season marches on with opening after opening: Dreamgirls tonight at the Adrienne Arsht Center, A Behanding in Spokane Saturday at GableStage, the world premiere of Cane at Florida Stage Oct. 29, a rare production of No Exit by The Naked Stage, also Oct. 29.  And after last week's extraordinary collection of performances, I can't wait.


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 gala@arshtcenter.org.


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 17, 2010

GableStage reveals a hot 2010-2011 lineup

GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler is usually among the last of South Florida's major theater company leaders to reveal his choices for a new season; he likes to take his time assembling the puzzle pieces of a just-right lineup of recent titles, edgy plays and the provocative works that speak to him and to his theater-savvy audiences.  His 2010-2011 picks, all southeastern premieres, are no exception, but Adler has finally settled on what looks like a killer six-play season.

Adler will kick off his season Oct. 23-Nov. 21 with the southeastern premiere of Martin McDonagh's recent Broadway hit A Behanding in Spokane, a bloody dark comedy about a guy searching for his missing hand.  The director has a strong track record with McDonagh's wild work, winning best play Carbonell Awards for his 2006 production of The Pillowman and 2007's The Lieutenant of Inishmmore.

Sharon_Gless The season's second show brings some star power to the intimate theater, with Burn Notice star Sharon Gless appearing in Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's A Round-Heeled Woman.  The Emmy-winning actress, a veteran of both Cagney & Lacey and Queer as Folk, will play a retired teacher who hasn't had sex in three decades but decides to jump back into the world of the flesh via a personals ad in The New York Review of Books. A Round-Heeled Woman will be at GableStage Dec. 30-Jan. 30..

Superior Donuts, the latest Broadway play from Pulitzer Prize winner Tracey Letts (whose award-winning August: Osage County is part of the new season lineup at Actors' Playhouse), will play GableStage Feb. 26-March 27. Letts' smaller-scale work is about the friendship of a cranky white donut shop owner and a black Chicago teen with something to hide.

MacArthur "genius" grant winner Sarah Ruhl's recent Broadway play In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play, a witty piece about marriage and intimacy turning on a 19th century doctor's use of a new device to treat "hysterical" women," runs April 30-May 29.

Israeli playwright Ilan Hatsor's Masked is next, running July 2-31.  The play about a family torn between survival and betrayal focuses on a trio of Palestinian brothers living on the West Bank in 1990.

Window00_playwright_wknd_GFAdler's final play in the new lineup, which will run Aug. 27-Sept. 25, 2011, is a South Florida milestone of sorts. Tarell Alvin McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City, got his high school diploma at the New World School of the Arts, did his undergrad work at Chicago's DePaul University and earned a graduate degree in play writing from the Yale School of Drama, has become one of the hottest and most honored young playwrights in the United States and Great Britain.  But the brilliant work that helped make his reputation hasn't been produced in his hometown -- yet.

Adler and GableStage will take a long-overdue leap by closing out next season with McCraney's The Brothers Size, one part of the trilogy he dubbed The Brother/Sister Plays.  Distinctive in voice and style, McCraney's piece is about two Louisiana brothers, family loyalty and the tug of erotic connection.

Regular tickets for the new shows at GableStage, which has just opened a sizzling production of Michael Weller's Fifty Words, will be $37.50-$47.50.  Subscriptions cost $200, a savings of up to $130 depending on the performance. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. GableStage is located in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Call the box office at 305-445-1119 or visit the GableStage web site for info.

April 22, 2010

Short stuff

Here's a mixed-bag theater nosh, just before a monster theater weekend in which six -- yes, six -- shows are opening Friday and Saturday.  (Those would be The Quarrel at GableStage, Raised in Captivity at New Theatre, Going To See the Elephant at The Women's Theatre Project, The Sum of Us at Rising Action Theatre, Suds at the Broward Stage Door Theatre and Three Tall Women at Palm Beach Dramaworks,)  Whew!

Tarell McCraney*  Tarell Alvin McCraney, one of the two hottest playwrights to come out of Miami (Nilo Cruz being the other, of course), has just become a member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company Ensemble.  McCraney acted in the Tina Landau-directed Theatrical Essays at Steppenwolf when he was doing his undergrad work at DePaul University, and his Brother/Sister Plays trilogy is playing at Steppenwolf through May 23.  The company has commissioned him to write a new play based on the biblical book of Job.

Cabaret_CL_5493 copy *  Opera/musical theater students at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus are beckoning one and all to come to their Cabaretthis weekend.  Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in MDC's Chapman Conference Center, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami.  Tickets are just $10 (only $5 for students, faculty and staff).  Call 305-237-7331 for info.

The Kosher Cheerleader, titled The Cheerleader and the Rabbi when it played the Hollywood Playhouse in 2008, has been retooled and redesigned for its current run at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse. Engaging, funny author and star Sandy Wolshin recounts her unusual journey from L.A. Raiders cheerleader to modern Orthodox Kosher Cheerleader -TeamJudaism but still proves she can cartwheel with the best of 'em.  Arnold Mittelman, former producing artistic director at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, directed the new production and is presenting it under the dual umbrella of his two companies, the American Theater Festival and the National Jewish Theater. Tickets are $19-$45, and remaining performances are at 2 and 8 p.m. today, 8:15 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call the box office at 954-462-0222 for info.

*  If you're free Monday, check out the free reading of Tony Finstrom's After Dark (described as All About Eve meetsThe Devil Wears Prada) at GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.  Show time is 7:30 p.m., and Stuart Meltzer directs a cast that includes Iris Acker, Jeffrey Bruce, Todd Bruno, David Hemphill, Miriam Kulick, Michael McKeever and Andy Rogow.  A discussion with Finstrom and the actors follows the reading.

April 13, 2010

One more theater 'prom' is history

Lesmiz06_hat_wknd_ARSo the 34th annual Carbonell Awards happened last night, with not too many surprises except for everyone singing Happy Birthday to Oscar Cheda (visiting for the evening from his road gig with In the Heights) and a late-in-the-show tribute to Carbonell-winning sound designer Steve Shapiro, who's leaving South Florida for a prestigious teaching job.  But of course the winners were surprised -- some more so than others. 

John Manzelli, for instance, who now teaches at Barry University and is a Naked Stage founder, won best lighting design for his work on Marco Ramirez's Macon City: A Comic Book Play.  Manzelli, as he admitted in accepting the award, isn't reallya lighting designer.  But he's a multi-talented guy -- actor, director, teacher and, yeah, now lighting designer -- who figured out how to make Macon City look way cool. And now he's got a Carbonell to show for it.

The night's dominant theaters (check out my Miami Herald story for full results) were two Coral Gables companies with a gazillion Carbonells between them, Actors' Playhouse and GableStage.  Their wins -- six to Actors' for its great production of Les Misérables, five to GableStage (for Speed-the-Plow and Farragut North, plus the special Bill Von Maurer Award for the company's contributions to South Florida theater) -- were certainly deserved.  But if I were running a theater in Broward or Palm Beach County, I might be questioning (to put it mildly) the voting process today.  (For the record, I'm not among the folks who select Carbonell nominees or vote on winners.)

The awards show itself, staged for the second year by newly appointed Carbonells executive director Amy London, was solidly entertaining but a little more low-key -- somehow simpler -- than last year's bash.

The opening year-in-theater number, though ably sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas by the Carbonell "Choir" (Steve Anthony, Irene Adjan, Barry Tarallo, Christopher Kent, Lisa Manuli, Julie Kleiner, Sally Bondi and the very bearded Avi Hoffman, in rehearsal for GableStage's The Quarrel), wasn't as clever as last year's opener.  The numbers from the nominated musicals were terrific, particularly Nathaniel Braga's head-over-heels Bigger Isn't Better from the Maltz Jupiter Theatre's Barnum, Everett Bradley's sexy a capella Some Like It from Caldwell Theatre's Vices: A Love Story, and the night's showstopper, David Michael Felty's glorious Bring Him Home from Actors' Les Miz.

Winners and presenters were on their best behavior (though presenter Ken Clement tried to get some faux bad blood going with the Women's Theatre Project).  GableStage's Joseph Adler, when not onstage accepting awards, got thanked a lot. Gregg Weiner, named best supporting actor in a play for Farragut North, said, "There's not a show that goes by that Joe doesn't bust my ass," something that always pushes him to get better.  Mad Cat Theatre founder Paul Tei, who had spent the day shooting Burn Notice, won best actor in a play for GableStage's Speed-the-Plow, and he happily detailed his career-long love of the play, his great recent experience with it (castmate Amy Elane Anderson is now his girlfriend) and his gratitude toward Adler, whom he called a "mentor and my second father."

All in all, it was a pleasant, inside-South-Florida-theater event, without the dramatic highs or lows that have marked past ceremonies.  Now that London is in charge of the Carbonell organization, it will be interesting to see how the always-delicate relationship between the theater community and those who carry out the Carbonell process evolves.

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. 

January 13, 2010

Topical new theater

Living Newspaper Flyer David Hemphill and David Sirois, both currently in GableStage's production of Farragut North, were college classmates at Miami's New World School of the Arts.  Now the two have joined forces with other artist-friends to launch a theater company, The State Theatre Project. 

In April, the group intends to produce Christopher Shinn's Dying City,featuring Sirois and fellow New World alumna Betsy Graver, on dark nights at GableStage.  To raise money for the show, the State Theatre Project is bringing an original fund-raising event to GableStage at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Dubbed "An Evening of Living Newspaper," the program of four new short plays is inspired by the topical Living Newspaper series done by the Federal Theatre Project from 1935-39.  Hemphill, the founder and artistic director of the State Theatre Project, intends to turn the Living Newspaper event into an ongoing series.

For the first event, the plays are by South Florida writers Christopher Demos-Brown, Michael McKeever, Ashley Olberding and Sirois.  In the acting company are Carbonell winners Barbara Bradshaw and Gregg Weiner, Deborah L. Sherman, Robert Strain, Marckenson Charles, Jackie Rivera, Andy Quiroga, Gladys Ramirez and Sirois.

The company is asking for a donation of $15 ($5 for students) for the show.  GableStage is in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.  For more information, phone 305-445-1119 or visit the GableStage web site.

November 30, 2009

Musical theaters

No, we're not talking theaters that do musicals, though both of these in-the-news companies do.  On the same day -- how weird is that? -- we learn that two of South Florida's most honored companies, GableStage and Florida Stage, are moving

GableStage, you already know if you read my story in Tuesday's Miami Herald, has been chosen as the new "theater operator" at the long-shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse  What that means is that Joseph Adler and company will be leaving Coral Gables for the Grove, but not 'til 2012 at the earliest  But it's a big step for South Florida's theater godfather (which we mean in the very nicest way) and his theater, which will double its seating capacity from 150 to 300.  So congrats!

And just because we're obsessive-compulsive, when we checked our e-mail late tonight, we learned that Florida Stage will move from Manalapan to the Marshall E. Rinker Sr. Playhouse at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach in July.  It will remain an autonomous company, but the facilities at the Kravis (not to mention the nearby eateries at City Place) should be a cool enhancement for Florida Stage's avid audience.  Just thought you'd want to know.  More tomorrow.

November 17, 2009

Hear a play, listen to a story

Resized_Sun_Shone_Brighter_web Christopher Demos-Brown is an attorney and a playwright.  The latter career seems to be heating up, with the world premiere of his play When the Sun Shone Brighter -- about a Cuban-American Miami mayor undone by ambition, lies and sex -- scheduled at Manalapan's Florida Stage May 12-June 20, 2010. 

Christopher Demos-Brown He's got another new play, Tropical Depression, in the works, and here's a reminder that you can experience it much sooner.  GableStage is doing a free staged reading of the script at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Stuart Meltzer directs a topnotch cast -- Barbara Bradshaw, Todd Allen Durkin, Amy McKenna, Bill Schwartz, Deborah Sherman, David Sirois and Ivette Viñas -- in the dark comedy about a family trapped by a hurricane.  GableStage, if you don't know, is in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Call 305-445-1119 or visit the company's web site for more information.


Florida Atlantic University and Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company are collaborating again on an adult storytelling series, this time with more featured artists.  Singers and Zingers: A Musical-Comedic Storytelling Series kicks off Nov. 30 with Charlotte Blake Alston telling stories and sharing music from West Africa.  Bil Lepp, Nancy Donoval, Grammy winner Bill Harley and guitarist Heather Forest are also on the series.

All performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. Mondays at the Caldwell, 7901 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Tickets are $20 and-$25 for one show, $60 and $80 for the series.  Call 1-877-245-7432 or visit the Caldwell's web site for details.

October 30, 2009

Plays (and a musical) get "read"

Play readings give the authors of new work a chance to hear their script come to life (and often, to figure out what might need fixing before the play gets a full production).  And sometimes, theaters offer staged readings of older works they're considering for a future season or simply as a way of augmenting their programming.

Three readings on the horizon for November offer audiences the chance to share in different facets of that process, at little or no cost.

First, Conundrum Stages, a company that specializes in play readings, will tackle Bernard Slade's Tribute,a play about a terminally ill actor who tries to reconnect with his long-estranged son.  Before the reading, singer David Meulemans and pianist Jim Welles will perform, then the cast (Sheldon Cohen, Linda Ellis, Peter Librach, Danielle Tabino, Wendi Librach, Bill Dobbins and Lory Reyes) takes over.  The event happens at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, at the Tamarac Theatre of the Performing Arts, 7143 N. Pine Island Rd., Tamarac.  Tickets are $10.  Call 954-726-7898 for information.

Header_homeOn Monday, Nov. 9, GableStage offers a rare musical "reading"  of Come Back, Little Sheba, a 1974 version of William Inge's play.  With book and lyrics by Miamian Lee Goldsmith and music by Clint Ballard, the musical premiered in Chicago (with Kaye Ballard as Lola) and was revived in 2001 at Connecticut's White Barn Theatre with Donna McKechnie in the lead role.

GableStage's reading stars Elizabeth Dimon, Nick Duckart, Wayne LeGette and Julie Kleiner, with Amy London directing.  It happens at 7 p.m., and admission is free.  For information, call 305-445-1119 or visit the GableStage web site.

Christopher Demos-Brown, a playwright and attorney whose play When the Sun Shone Brighter (about a Miami mayor undone by sex, lies and ambition) will get its world premiere at Florida Stagelater this season, will get a reading of another script at GableStage at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23. The free reading of Tropical Depression, which the playwright describes as "a dark comedy about a family...trapped by a hurricane," will be directed by Stuart Meltzer; in the cast are Deborah Sherman, Todd Allen Durkin, David Sirois, Barbara Bradshaw, Bill Schwartz, Amy McKenna and Ivette Viñas.