By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Later this month the renowned Hollywood actor and standup comic Noriyuki "Pat" Morita will take the stage in Weston. About 500 people will pay just $8 for a seat in a luxury theater with a state-of-the-art sound system. They will undoubtedly be captivated as Morita reprises his Oscar-nominated Karate Kid role of Mr. Miyagi and rehashes bits from his days as the malt-shop owner on Happy Days.
The performance has not been advertised in newspapers or on the radio. If you call up Ticketmaster in hopes of landing a ticket to see the "Hip Nip," as Morita was billed in his early nightclub days, the operator will offer only bewilderment. In fact, even if you happen to have seen all four Karate Kid movies and every rerun of Happy Days, somehow discern that Morita is going to be in town, and hightail it to the theater box office, the ticket seller will turn you away cold.
Morita is not the only star sneaking in and out of South Florida this winter without your knowledge. Gabe Kaplan, of Welcome Back, Kotter fame, has performed numerous times in recent months to little public fanfare. Jimmie "Dy-no-mite" Walker, Rich Little, Freddy Roman, Fyvush Finkel, Nell Carter, and Nipsey Russell have all given shows in recent years that you were not allowed to attend.
Why is it, you ask, that 500 people will have the pleasure of watching Morita perform for a measly eight bucks, while you'll be sitting at home, forced to make do watching Karate Kid III on video and maybe downing a few beers for consolation?
Simply put, you don't have the right address.
Morita, like dozens of other performers each week in South Florida, is working the Condo Circuit. And only residents of the Bonaventure condominiums can get in the door.
On any given day in South Florida, particularly from November to April, scores of performances, from ballets to drag shows, are given exclusively for condominium residents. The gigs range from luxurious venues seating more than 1000 people to small banquet halls hosting the monthly meetings of a perhaps 25-member chapter of a Hadassah women's group.
Performances start precisely on time, are heavy on Gershwin, show tunes, and nostalgia for New York City -- and feature enough Yiddish to leave the goyim scratching their heads. The Condo Circuit is as endemic to South Florida condominium culture as early-bird specials and election-day palm cards.
Because you are prohibited from witnessing this peculiar cultural phenomenon, I (exerting the exclusive media privileges of a New Times hack) spent four days and nights investigating the Condo Circuit. I talked with agents, condo bookers, performers, and residents. It wasn't always pretty .
Even from the parking lot of the Leonard Weisinger Community Center in Margate, a voice can be heard belting out "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. I'm right on time for the 12:30 performance of Errol Dante, but apparently the singer-comedian has started without me.
"He is verygood," the woman at the front door reassures me. "But this is his last song."
The audience comprises 28 members of Jewish Women International. The elderly condo-dwellers are seated on folding chairs in the drab, gray-walled room. The majority possess elaborately frosted hair, clutch oversize purses close by their sides, and pay rapt attention.
Dante wears a blue suit and complements it with a red shirt that almost matches his crimson face. The 53-year-old veteran performer is square-jawed and solidly built. As the song reaches its climax, Dante thrusts his right arm in the air for dramatic effect. His booming operatic voice (think Michael Crawford on steroids) nearly drowns out the prerecorded musical accompaniment.
"To dream the impossible dream!" Dante croons, wrenching every melodramatic drip from the tune. "To fight the unbeatable foe! To bear with unbearable sorrow! To run where the brave dare not go! "
As Dante is ready to bound off the stage to enthusiastic applause, he's halted by a question from the audience.
"What's the gentleman's name?" a woman calls out brazenly. Dante doesn't flinch at the lack of recognition. Apparently he's fielded this question before.
"If you liked what you heard, it's Errol Dante," he says. "If not, it's Jerry Vale." The audience roars.
By the time the audience quiets down, Dante is off the stage and packing his gear to head for another condo gig (the reason for the early start time). Before taking off he hands me a black folder emblazoned with gold letters: "The Golden Voice of Errol Dante." Dante got his start as a house singer at the famous Copacabana in New York City and was a protégé of Tony Martin. He's worked his shtick in the major clubs of Vegas and Atlantic City. If you'd managed to sneak into one of the roasts during the glory days of Manhattan's members-only Friar's Club, the odds are decent that Dante would have been cracking jokes and performing the national anthem for the likes of Don Rickles and Dean Martin. Sinatra once said Dante possessed a "great set of pipes."
Yet here he is, just past noon on a Tuesday in Margate, plying his trade for a crowd that knows Errol Dante only as one more item on the agenda for the monthly meeting of Jewish Women International. Dante averages five or six performances a week during the season and estimates that 90 percent of his business is through the condominiums. He still gets the occasional prime gig in Atlantic City and likes to drop names from the good old days ("Milton Berle is a good friend of mine," he notes), but Dante's bread is buttered on the Condo Circuit.