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.

April 06, 2010

This Dixie 'chick' hawks Tupperware

DixieMixing Dixie's Tupperware Party isn't new to South Florida -- it played the Parker Playhouse just a bit over a year ago -- but Alabama native Dixie Longate didn't get to be one of America's top Tupperware salespeople by accident. She works it, people.

Dixie, whose made-up biography includes three husbands and three kiddies (the youngest being Absorbine Jr.), actually does sell the latest in burping plastic containers at her show, which is (we hear) way too bawdy for kids like Absorbine Jr. to attend.

Written and performed by Kris Andersson, Dixie's Tupperware Party plays the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, from Wednesday through April 18.  The performance schedule is as wild as Dixie's dress -- some matinees at 1 p.m., others at 3; evening shows at 6, 7:30 or 8:30 p.m., depending on the day.Tickets are $29 and $39.  Call 954-462-0222 or visit the Broward Center's web site for complete info.

March 31, 2010

A double dose of shows from Neil Berg

Schenkkan-Berg-Bohmer Showman and composer-lyricist Neil Berg will be one busy guy over the next 10 days, as he's opening not one but two productions in Fort Lauderdale.

The more ambitious venture, the world premiere of a rock-style musical titled The 12, has its one-night-only debut at 8 p.m. Thursday in the larger Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.  Berg (at center in the photo) wrote the music and lyrics, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle author is pictured at left) crafted the book and additional lyrics to piece that is described as beginning "where Jesus Christ Superstar left off."

The 12tells the story of the apostles after Jesus' death.  Broadway veterans in the cast include Ron Bohmer (at right in photo), Jeremy Kushnier and Lawrence Clayton.  Each apostle has his own classic rock style, and among the performers in the concert-style premiere are former Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz and singer Sophia Ramos, who plays Mary Magdelene.

Tickets for The 12are $25 to $55 and are available by calling 954-462-0222 or visiting the Broward Center's web site.

Ten days later, Berg and a Broadway-experienced cast take the stage at the Parker Playhouse, 701 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale, for two performances of Neil Berg's 101 Years of Broadway.  The show roams through Broadway hits from such really diverse composers as Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Billy Joel, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jersey Boys' Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio.  The show's featured performers are Carter Calvert, Rita Harvey, Ted L. Levy, Brad Little and Craig Schulman.

Performances of 101 Years of Broadway are at 2 and 8 p.m. April 10. Tickets are $34 to $49.  Call the Broward Center box office (which handles Parker tickets) at 964-462-0222 or visit the Parker web site.

March 15, 2010

A swap and a workshop

ShinnThe next show at Plantation's Mosaic Theatre was supposed to be the farce Boeing Boeing, the1960 farce by French playwright Marc Camoletti that was revived on Broadway with great success in 2008.  Instead, artistic director Richard Jay Simon will stage another play that has long interested him, Christopher Shinn's Dying City.

Simon, who explains that he postponed Boeing Boeing because he was having trouble casting it, has already found his actors for Shinn's play.  Erin Joy Schmidt will play a therapist whose husband has died in Iraq.  Ricky Waugh will play her brother-in-law -- the husband's identical twin -- in the thriller that was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Dying City runs April 15-May 9, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $37 ($31 for seniors 65 and older,$15 for students). Mosaic is at 12200 W. Broward Blvd. in the American Heritage Center for the Arts. Call 954-577-8243 or visit Mosaic's web site.


Heights The cast members from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award-winning In the Heightsare, necessarily, great dancers who know how to do the salsa, merengue and much, much more. They're giving back to dance-crazy South Florida in the form of a free dance workshop on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

The actors will teach some of the show's Tony-winning choreography in a session in the New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.  Though the workshop is free, it's limited to 75 participants, and you need to reserve a place by calling the Broward Center box office at 954-462-0222.  In the Heightsopens Tuesday at the center, where it runs through March 28. Visit the Broward Center web site for more info.

December 17, 2009

More holiday laughs

SteveSolomon--HFTH Solo performer Steve Solomon explores the best (or most stressful) of both holiday worlds in My Mother Is Italian, My Father's Jewish and I'm Home for the Holidaysthis weekend in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

Solomon plays not just himself but myriad members of his extended dysfunctional family in Holidays, which features a family dinner, plenty of funny bickering and 35 not-so-shy people fighting to use one bathroom.

Performances are at 7:30 pm. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets are $25 and $35.  The Broward Center is at 201 SW Fifth Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.  Call 954-462-0222 or visit the center's web site.

November 11, 2009

Theater shorts

Front-of-Flyer-Web No, this isn't a post about a festival of short plays.  It's a collection of brief items about theater -- an edgy play, a benefit raffle, a rock musical premiere, enhanced Broadway touring performances -- from around South Florida.

*  Unhinged Theatre, a company of Florida International University theater grads and students, is putting on a brief run of Stephen Adly Guirgis' Den of Thieves.  Jose Grau directs Ashley Alvarez, Zunyer Garcia, Yesenia Iglesias, Michael Leon, Matthew Mur, Paul Perez and Ryan Rodriguez in a play about people who plot to steal $750,000 in drug money, only to find themselves in a life-and-death battle.

The show goes on for two weekends, at 8 p.m. this Saturday-Sunday and Nov. 21-22, at the Alper Jewish Community Center's Robert Russell Theater, 11155 SW 112th Ave., Miami.  Tickets are $15 (students $10).  Call 305-785-7377 or go to the Unhinged web site for more info.

* This Friday, Plantation's Mosaic Theatre is partnering with its host institution, The American Heritage School, to raise funds for the ongoing medical treatment of teen burn victim Michael Brewer.  The theater and school are selling raffle tickets at $2 each or three for $5, and the prizes are 45 "gently used" eMac computers and 45 tickets to Mosaic shows.  Send a check made out to American Heritage School, with "Michael Brewer" on the memo line, to Mosaic Theatre, 12200 W. Broward Blvd., Suite 3121, Plantation, FL 33325 -- but remember, the drawing is this Friday.

*  In Broward Center news, 100 Years of Broadway composer Neil Berg is world premiering a new piece called The 12 on April 1, 2010, in the center's Au-Rene Theater.  Berg's rock-style score, set to a story by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle), will be performed by Broadway/rock performers including Rob Evan, Danny Zolli, Lawrence Clayton and Patti Russo.  The show is described as "the musical that begins where Jesus Christ Superstar left off."  Tickets are $25-$55 and are on sale at the box office (954-462-0222) and on the Broward Center's web site (but you have to search for it by typing in The Twelve -- it doesn't show up if you try The 12 or Berg's name).

* Also at the Broward Center, the center has joined with Broadway Across America to offer both signed and open-captioned/audio-described performances of this season's touring Broadway shows.  Signed performances communicate dialogue, lyrics and sound effects to those who understand American Sign Language.  Audio-described narration allows visually impaired theatergoers to listen to descriptions of a show's visual elements on special head sets. Open captioning provides a text displayof dialogue and lyrics to the side of the stage.

The center's current show, Legally Blonde the Musical, will ahve a signed performance at 8 p.m. Nov. 20 and an open-captioned/audio-described performance at 2 p.m. Nov. 21.  Similar performances will take place during the runs of The Phantom of the Opera, The 39 Steps (at the Parker Playhouse), In the Heights and The Color Purple.  Get tickets to the special performances by calling the box office at 954-462-0222 or calling via TTY at 954-468-3283.

October 20, 2009

Tango gets (even more) theatrical

Tanguera-club Tanguera -- The Tango Musical got mixed reviews (some adoring, some not) during its recent New York run, but given the born-again popularity of dance on television thanks to shows such as Dancing With the Stars, you can bet that tango fans will turn out when the 30-plus actor-dancers of Tanguera hit the stage at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this Wednesday through Sunday.

The Argentine show has toured the world and in telling its story features such classic tangos as La Cumparsita, Derecho Viejo, Danzarin and El Choclo, along with new tangos.

Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $25 to $75.  Call 954-462-0222 or visit the Broward Center's web site for information.

July 09, 2009

Meltzer out as City's Shorts streamlines

City team Stuart Meltzer just wrapped up his second season as the artistic director of City Theatre, the company that presents the popular annual Summer Shorts festival at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Broward Center.  As he found out after he went to work on Wednesday, that second season will be his last:  He was let go by Stephanie Norman (City's executive director and one of the company's three founders) and Alan Fein (board chairman and spouse of Susan Westfall, another City founder who also sits on the board).

Norman (she's in the middle in the photo, with Meltzer to the left and general manager Kerry Shiller to the right) explains that the company has a $50,000 deficit, a burden made worse by shortfalls in projected ticket sales in both Miami-Dade and Broward.  Worst hit during the recently ended 14th annual Shorts Fest was the Shorts 4 Kids program, which drew 76 percent of capacity last summer but fell below 30 percent this year -- probably, Norman guesses, because recession-related cutbacks brought far fewer school and camp groups to the theater.

Looking at the deficit, disappointing ticket sales and fundraising challenges, and anticipating a loss of $15,000 to $20,000 in grant money for next season, Norman, Fein and the board weighed numerous options and made the choice to go back to a seasonal festival coordinator rather than a year-round artistic director.

"The reviews and response from the audience were strong [this year],'' Norman says, "but we didn't hit our numbers."

So one major savings, it seems, will be Meltzer's salary.  The South Florida native, former head of theater at Gulliver Prep and a former full-time faculty member at the New World School of the Arts, was shaken by the news of his sudden unemployment but has chosen to take the high road.

"The board hired a young, energetic, creative person who was going to shake things up, and I tried to do that.  City Theatre has a terrific board in both Miami-Dade and Broward -- they care a lot,"  he says.  It's just bad luck that the economy is what it is."

Fein says that founders Norman, Westfall and Elena Wohl "did a great job taking the organization to the next level and the next.  After the 10th year, we asked whether we should just declare victory and wrap it up."  Because of support from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, Carnival Cruise Lines, the Arsht Center and numerous other companies, foundations, individual donors and government grants -- and because of the festival's popularity -- it stuck around and kept growing until the economy shriveled. Fein says that he's determined to make sure the 15th Summer Shorts starts $50,000 in the black and is hoping the company's artistic process "gets more collaborative again."

Norman says of Meltzer, "He's a charming, bright, articulate, wonderfully creative soul.  Working with him has been a pleasure.  I like him very much personally...Do we agree on everything?  No. When you put on art, disagreement is just human nature.  This model didn't work.  For better or worse, it has to change."

April 07, 2009

Carbonell Awards become a "theater prom"

AmymichaelThe 33rd annual Carbonell Awards were handed out Monday night in a moving, entertaining, raucous and altogether memorable ceremony in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  Countless talented South Florida theater folks were involved, but the mind and vision that shaped this year's show belong to Executive Producer/Director Amy London, who did a spectacular job.  (That's Amy at left with playwright/actor/Carbonell program designer Michael McKeever.)

London's Carbonells weren't as flashy as those in recent years.  No orchestra, no Vegas/cruise ship production numbers, no out-of-town "celebs" without connections to (or knowledge of) South Florida theater.  Instead, the show was by, of and for the region's theater artists.  And it was also both more meaningful and more memorable.

Stage_Dade_wkend26Thanks to the magic of Power Point, when nominees in each category were announced, a production photo or picture of the artist at work reminded everyone of the richness of the talent that graced South Florida Stages in 2008.  Instead of random Broadway musical numbers, London's show featured a number from each of the productions vying for the best musical Carbonell.  After a terrifically witty opening number by Laura Hodos and Maribeth Graham (Carbonell-skewering lyrics set to the tune of Stephen Sondheim's Getting Married Today from Company) and the presentation of four design awards, the entire cast of GableStage's Adding Machine (except for Ken Clement, who didn't sing in the show) emerged to demonstrate why London's musical-highlighting notion was such a fine idea.

Oscar Cheda, Jim Ballard, Stacy Schwartz, Graham -- all of whom won Carbonells for their work in the show -- and the stellar "chorus" (Irene Adjan, Erik Fabregat, Lisa Manuli and Barry Tarallo) sang the heck out of one of the musical's devilishly complex numbers, as their Carbonell-winning musical director Erik Alsford accompanied them on the piano.  Later, director Joseph Adler and the show itself won Carbonells.  That musical moment was a vivid demonstration of how artistic risk can bring rewards and of how deep South Florida's talent pool has become.

Argue23_mosaic_mds_ers  Because of the dominance of Adding Machine, GableStage had a great night. So did Mosaic Theatre, the company that American Heritage School grad Richard Jay Simon started at his Plantation alma mater and built, with amazing speed, into one of the region's powerhouse companies.  Mosaic's production of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer brought it multiple Carbonells, including best production of a play and best director for Simon.  Gregg Weiner (at right in photo with Seafarer cast mate and fellow nominee John Felix) was named best actor.  Dennis Creaghan, who beat out Felix for best supporting actor, acknowledged his cast mate by musing that maybe there should have been a recount, Felix hollered good-naturedly from the audience, "I want one."

Among the evening's other high points:  When Actors' Playhouse artistic director David Arisco received the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, he actually spoke about the honor's legendary Broadway namesake, recalling how much it had meant to have Abbott in the audience at Actors' when he staged Damn Yankees (a show Abbott co-authored and directed on Broadway in the year Arisco was born).

Among low points:  award recipients who took advantage of London's decision not to put a time limit acceptance speeches by gushing and babbling endlessly; "artists" who seem unable to speak into a microphone without dropping f-bombs; one obviously alcohol-powered actor-director who kept yelling another director's name from the audience.  The Carbonells may have turned into a happy "theater prom" this year, but they're a celebration of a professional community, not a time-trip back to high school.

The theater community will, inevitably, do plenty of Tuesday-morning quarterbacking about who did/didn't win Carbonells.  But the show itself?  London did herself and South Florida theater proud.

March 12, 2009

Broward Center rolls out magic

The Broward Center is turning to circus theatrics and an illusionist couple to conjure up some diversion during these hard times.

Cirquebigwheels First up, at 8 p.m. March 20-21, is Cirque Mechanics' Birdhouse Factory.  Chris Lashua, who originated the German Wheel act in Cirque du Soleil's Quidam, devised and directs a piece inspired by Diego Rivera's industrial murals and Charlie Chaplin's movie Modern Times.  In the 90-minute show, the performer/athletes transform a gloomy factory into a place full of spirited fun.  Tickets to Birdhouse Factory are $25 to $65.  The show goes on in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.  For information, call 954-462-0222 or visit the center's web site

The following weekend, the center brings The Spencers: Theatre of Illusionto the Miramar Cultural Center, 2400 Civic Center Place in Miramar.  Husband and wife illusionists Kevin and Cindy Spencer turn to both theater and magic to apparently walk through walls, levitate, vanish and reappear.  Their show happens at 8 p.m. March 27, 1 p.m. March 28.  Tickets are $15.50-$35.50.  For information, phone the box office at 954-602-4500 or visit the cultural center's web site..