Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
As umpteen karaoke singers have shown, the artistry of Neil Diamond is impossible to replicate. If you don't get too close to Neil Zirconia, who dubs himself "the ultimate faux diamond," it's easy to pretend that the gravelly warble knockoff you're getting is the real gem. Discovered by an Elvis impersonator — how apt — Chuck LaPaglia has delivered sparkling sets of Diamond classics as the Zirconia alter ego for years. Unlike the real Neil, you're often getting a quality steak dinner and cocktails at fine South Florida restaurants while the man in a sequin-covered shirt unloads "Sweet Caroline, "Cracklin' Rose," and "Kentucky Woman" with flair — and if you haven't gotten enough, the wait for another local gig is always a short one. A thrill so cheap rarely feels so good. A Diamond might be forever, but Zirconia lasts long enough for a night of quality nostalgia.
In the past decade or so, we've been inundated with bubbles: the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, the stock market bubble, Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles. After all these messes, the term stopped conjuring up images of that beloved bathing staple Mr. Bubble and became synonymous with the plundering of your 401-K. Luckily, longtime promoters/power couple Garo Gallo and Yvonne Colón are reappropriating the term in a way that will thrill those concerned about the health of South Florida's arts community. For the past year, their space the Bubble has served as a hub for Broward County creative types such as local artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, musicians, and even a puppeteer. Imagine concert-hall-quality acoustics, 3,000 square feet to boogie your ass off or wallflower around in (this doesn't include the giant space outside), two stages, and loads of local art littering the walls by artists such as Lisa Parrott, Erick Arenas, Rachel DeJohn, and Francesco LoCastro. (Fun fact: LoCastro also painted the rad mural that covers the front of the warehouse.) Gallo and Colón conceptualized the Flagler spot years ago as a venue where oft-underrepresented artists can display their work, indie musicians can rehearse and record, and networking and promotion will help solidify the local community. Their vision officially began to materialize in April 2009, when the couple started renting the space. Since then, they've been booking acts, showcasing countless artists, and renovating tirelessly. "This way, we don't have to answer to club owners with bad taste," Gallo quipped when the Bubble first opened. Now, because of the Bubble, we don't have to hang out at such places either.
It's definite: The Caldwell is fusty no more. Its last season, helmed by new Executive Artistic Director Clive Cholerton, was powerful, varied, and risky. He took some knocks for that, of course — nobody much liked The Old Man and the Sea, which in retrospect probably didn't need to be turned into a play — but mostly, the word among theater people is that Cholerton is the most exciting thing to happen to the performing arts in SoFla in years. The first show he mounted while running the theater, an experimental musical called Vices, a Love Story, was nothing short of thrilling; his second effort, the new The Whipping Man, was a trenchant meditation on power and guilt that was lovely, deep, and enlightening; and the masterful The Voysey Inheritance asked Caldwell's moneyed Boca Raton audience to have compassion for, of all people, a Ponzi schemer. That's balls. It was also great theater.
The set for Two Jews Walk Into a War was a painterly representation of a crumbling synagogue in Kabul, which happened to be inhabited by the last two Jews in the country of Afghanistan. You could sense that a lot of love went into the place before it became an object of anti-Jewish target practice. It was full of warm light and, despite the carnage outside, peaceful vibes. The stone floors looked like they'd been worn down by generations of worshipers. When gunshots struck the temple — as they did frequently, serving as a kind of grim rim-shot to punctuate the jokes of the show's titular Jews — they sent up little plumes of dust and smoke, and we could watch the place's deterioration continue with force.
God bless Alexander. Not just because the Fort Lauderdale indie-rock group's charismatic frontman, Ryan Alexander, inserts his passionate religious beliefs and stances regarding poverty, politics, and the human condition into the lyrics. There's a dedication to songcraft here that can thread together neatly like Death Cab for Cutie on record but will turn around and chomp up the stage when they perform live. "Peter, James & John (Backward Math)" from new album The Other Side of Symmetry is a catchy statement, pure and simple, and while the usual trend for alt-leaning rock is navel-gazing, at least this band is trying to strike a positive balance between preaching and preening. Not yet a convert? Look to Alexander's many well-kempt disciples, who always arrive early and provide vigorous support for every electrifying chord — as well as when the guys seductively flop their shaggy hair. Getting a message across is sometimes just as simple as turning up the volume.
Stonefox vocalist Jordan Asher Cruz and bassist Ross Fuentes headed to New York in February, and with them, the blues-infused racket that was their trademark left town too. A whole lot of sweat-soaked and beer-coated warehouse floors went dry, and even more lusty South Florida hearts became famished. In late May, Cruz, guitarist Dave Barnard, and drummer Jeff Rose officially announced they had re-formed sans Fuentes — albeit as Blond Fuzz for legal reasons. With a cover of the Velvet Underground classic "White Light/White Heat" as the new outfit's first official output, none of the intensity was lost. While hacks like Jet keep crashing this Led Zep-inspired garage-rock style into the ocean, Blond Fuzz always gets the balance between retro and modern just right. It could have been a lifetime before another sound so cool and calculated echoed and buzzed from the belly of South Florida.
"Van Go" by Stonefox: