Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The inaugural Fort Lauderdale Fringe Festival was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of theater. Three separate Broward College classrooms were converted into black-box-style theaters that would house ten hours of more than 20 plays — largely crafted by local talent. Vanessa Elise, a playwright and Carbonell-nominated actor, was brought on by Broward College (which hosted the event) as a consulting artistic director. "That's the beauty of the fringe: Every piece is absolutely different," she told New Times. "We have one that is a musical in Spanglish. We have a theatrical composition that was submitted as a proposal — they built the script as they rehearsed. There's even a Noh [Japanese musical drama] play written by Cynthia Joyce Clay — it's very slow and poetic and quite beautiful." All that variety helped fill a hole in the Broward arts scene that has been sorely missing for, like, ever. And we really hope the festival returns, bigger and better than ever, in 2016.
Readers' Choice: SunFest
A ballsy show in more ways than one, Island City Stage's Octopus explored the potential perils of unprotected sex through a surrealist conceit that would make Eugene Ionesco proud. It starts with a shockingly frank orgy involving two male couples, their sexual maneuvering choreographed like a ballet. But the weirdness comes later, in the aftermath of the encounter, when one character apparently takes up residence at the bottom of the ocean and sends cryptic missives to his friends and lovers through a creepy telegraph boy. Andy Rogow's fearless direction plunged into depths few theater companies would dare explore, resulting in a groundbreaking drama that was strange, visceral, and altogether physical, from its many-tentacled tangle of nude flesh to the realistic brawls of its climactic finish, staged in and around a pool of water. Those in the front row could have been warned they'd be sitting in a Sea World-like splash zone, but that would have dampened the show's immersive excitement: We were all in it together.
With Daniel's Husband, Michael McKeever proved that even after years of writing award-winning South Florida premieres, he's still getting better. As Island City Stage's riveting capstone to its best season yet, Daniel's Husband started off as the kind of breezy, erudite comedy McKeever can write in his sleep. At a dinner gathering of two gay couples, we learned the hosts, Mitchell and his partner Daniel, have opposing views of marriage: Mitchell was philosophically opposed to it, and Daniel was waiting — sometimes more patiently than others — for his boyfriend to come around. What made the play uniquely powerful is that it enjoyed its world premiere the year same-sex marriage became legal in Florida. For the first time in history, its characters had the same choice to wed as straight couples have for centuries — and with that choice came responsibility. When tragedy struck Daniel in a bold, twist-ending Act I, the play became a tear-jerking cautionary tale about the perils of voluntarily staying separate but equal, and there was never a question of the playwright's stance on the issue. Hopefully, this brave and personal work's Florida debut will be its first stop of many.
2012's film adaptation of Les Miserables was punishing, and by now, it's hard to get enthused about seeing yet another regional production of this hulking warhorse. But Maltz Jupiter Theatre's superlative, standard-bearing mounting of the operatic Boublil and Schonberg classic breathed new and inspired life into the familiar text. Every element of the production was a dazzling showcase of deeply considered craftsmanship, from Paul Black's heavenly tunnels of light to Gail Baldoni's bounteous variety of period-perfect costumes to Paul Tate DePoo III's towering, ominous set design to Marty Mets' sound design, which ensured that the actors' soaring voices cut through the shifting sonic landscape with crystal clarity. As for those 26 voices onstage? Simply miraculous. The show opened only in March, but no matter what musicals open for the remainder of the year, this Les Miz is clearly the musical to beat headed into next year's Carbonell Awards.
The world of five-star restaurants is kind of like the world of the theater. In both cases, the roiling backstage environment is a far cry from the perfectly presented machine the audience sees. Sean McClelland's scenic design in the Broward Center's Fully Committed envisioned the lowest rung in a restaurant's totem pole, a reservations room tucked away in the bowels of the restaurant, notches below even the private, profanity-laden hothouse known as the kitchen. As the place where an overworked phone jockey spent one hectic evening fielding phone calls from friends, parents, rivals, superagents, and desperate debutantes, McClelland's design was part man-cave, part dungeon, part collection of curiosities whose lack of explanation added to the set's quirky memorability. As uninviting as a Third World prison yet stuffed to the brim with ornamental gewgaws, the set epitomized its inhabitant's saving grace: his ability to bring character and color to a drab, soul-draining job.
This LGBT-focused theater company in Fort Lauderdale gained inestimable respect in 2013, when its acclaimed production of the Holocaust drama The Timekeepers scored six Carbonell Awards. It has kept up that winning track record since, beginning as one of a handful of theaters to share the offbeat space at Empire Stage and emerging as its most important lessee, playing to capacity audiences night after night. The keen eyes of artistic directors Andy Rogow and Michael Leeds are largely to thank for its success. Over the past year, they took a chance on world premieres — Michael McKeever's devastating Daniel's Husband and Michael Aman's POZ, an implacable ensemble dramedy concerning AIDS and spirituality — while mounting South Florida premieres of the acerbic Hollywood satire The Little Dog Laughed and the surrealist masterpiece Octopus. All were gay-specific but universally relatable, transcending the company's niche and resulting in must-see theater for all.
Readers' Choice: The Broward Center for the Performing Arts