In an interview with New Times last year, GableStage artistic director Joe Adler said, "Television, and to some extent movies, is about maintaining a level of mediocrity. This is not the case with theater. It's a much bigger commitment. The audience is a participant." Adler combined his numerous years of film and TV experience with his passion and directorial savvy, turning Popcorn into a dark satire about the movie industry, among other things. With his trademark emotive directorial style, Adler knows how to get the best out of his actors. By pairing Claire Tyler and Paul Tei in the lead roles, he created just the right balance of innocence and evil. Adler consistently shows a keen awareness of the context of contemporary theater. He never makes theatergoers slaves to the stage. And he often uses film, video, music, and sound to propel the play into the audience's imagination. In Popcorn Adler offered a reminder that live theater can offer excitement that television and film can't -- without record, play, and rewind.
Picking out a top local jazzman is easy when he is also one of the greatest of all time. Ira Sullivan was a guiding light in Chicago's hard-bop scene of the 1960s. One of the few jazz musicians equally skilled with trumpet, flügelhorn, and every flavor of saxophone, Sullivan has played with more or less every big name in jazz during a career spanning 50 years. Perhaps the only reason he hasn't achieved the godlike status of Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie is that he virtually refuses to travel and is reticent about recording. In fact he has released only two albums in the last two decades. The last time he toured was more than a decade ago, with Red Rodney, the trumpeter who in 1949 replaced Miles Davis in Charlie Parker's bebop quintet. Despite all this, Sullivan is still recognized as one of the great names in jazz. Nowadays, apart from the occasional trip back to sweet home Chicago, he plays a few places around South Florida, including One Night Stan's in Hollywood the first Thursday of every month.
The six members of the Broward/Miami-Dade combo See Venus like to describe their heady sound as somewhere between Brian Wilson and Stereolab. Damn them, but we can't think of a more accurate comparison. Venus' space-age, bachelor-pad music is at once futuristic and retro, impossibly cool, and uncommonly catchy. Leader Christopher Moll began strolling down the pop path in the early '90s with his band Twenty-Three, but the full-bodied sound of See Venus seems to be what he's been striving for; with six members cavorting about with horns, keyboards, samplers, basses, and guitars, little white space exists on the band's crowded canvas. The sweet vocals of Rocky Ordoñez and Erica Boynton combine and captivate, making the melodious "Shine Like Stars" and the bouncy, Brazilian "Boy Bubble Blue" must-have confections. Find the band creating its magic at venues like Tobacco Road and Respectable Street.

Straddling the line between high art and unadulterated, lowbrow, cover-band fun, Fort Lauderdale's Hashbrown appeals to hard-rockers, hip-hop heads, and fans of Parliament-style funk. The quartet is adept at kicking down a thickened, spicy, funked-up, urbane rock that's guaranteed to make your booty move and your mind follow. But the dance floor isn't the only place to enjoy Hashbrown: Plenty of the Velcro-strength hooks on tracks such as the rambunctious "HOD" and the silky "Over & Done" from their new Fuzzy Logic CD have the staying power of an all-day lollipop. Bassist-singer Jay Spencer is fully in charge of the nonstop hip-hop 'n' roll. Guitarist Duncan Cameron serves up obtuse, jazzy chords to add a bit of a professorial air. Drummer Rick Kanner dishes out never-ending, party-style beats. And DJ Boogie Waters is Hashbrown's secret weapon, piping a stream of vinyl samples atop the groovalicious funk. Catch the band at the Poor House most weekend nights or at the Surf Cafe in Boca Raton.
Boca Raton resident Chris Carrabba is a newfangled hybrid in the acoustic singer/songwriter mold. Though he uses roughly the same approach Woody Guthrie employed during dust bowl days, he's updated the formula slightly. Using the name the Dashboard Confessional, Carrabba strums unplugged, emo-punk anthems that connect on a gut level with his teenage and twentysomething audiences. The new Dashboard Confessional full-length CD, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, delivers the heart-on-the-sleeve, poignant lyrics with which his fans often sing along, as in "Again I Go Unnoticed": "So what's another day/When I can't bear these nights/Of thoughts of going on without you." You can find Carrabba touring the nation with the likes of Snapcase or Face to Face or witness him in stool-perching mode at Ray's Downtown Blues.

The Music Lesson dismantled the myth that good drama must arise from a dramatic situation. In this play by Tammy Ryan, a couple of musicians, Irena and Ivan, take refuge in Pittsburgh from war-torn Sarajevo and end up giving music lessons to American children from a broken family. What made Florida Stage's production exceptional was the acting, featuring the talents of Maggi St. Clair Melin, Jessica K. Peterson, Joris Stuyck, Elizabeth Dimon, Amy Love, Ashton Lee, Craig D. Ames, Eddi Shraybman, and Ethel Yari. The alienation and suffering these characters felt moved through the audience like slow ether, emanating from their simplest gestures. In fact the play is a gestural masterpiece, with all the action centering around an invisible piano. More than a metaphor, classical music becomes a tangible character, so that The Music Lesson is not just another account of human tragedy desensitized by a flood of overt emotion and sentimentality; it is a moving account of people trying to rebuild their lives.

We laughed. We cried. We begged for more. Then we saw Muvico Parisian 20 and realized we could never go back to another theater. While the trend-setting Fort Lauderdale-based theater chain's other South Florida multiplexes -- its Egyptian-themed temple of film in Pembroke Pines, its salute to the '50s in Pompano Beach, and its palatial tip of the hat to Addison Mizner in Boca Raton -- are impressive, its Parisian 20 in CityPlace is truly the pièce de résistance. Originally sold to the public as a French opera house, the theater has been described in the company's recent press releases as a movie chateau. Whatever they call it, this place is as eye-popping as anything on the silver screen. With sweeping staircases, intricate molding, and sky blue walls adorned with white columns, wainscoting, and hand-painted murals of Rubenesque cherubs, the lobby is nothing if not stunning. Popcorn in this theater? Au contraire. While it is on the menu, theatergoers can feast on things besides the usual snack bar fare, including quesadillas, shrimp, and, in the upstairs bar, sushi and pan bellos. But the real treat comes not from hearing, smelling, or tasting a thing but, when the lights dim and you sit back in a comfortable rocking chair with plenty of leg room, from realizing no one's head is in the way. As they say in Paris, ahhh.
For much of its half-century history, the Boca Raton Museum of Art was crammed into a woefully inadequate structure on Palmetto Park Road -- an acoustically atrocious set of galleries that was hardly worthy of the extensive holdings. Under the stewardship of long-time executive director George S. Bolge, the museum built a solid track record of creative programming, but there was no getting around it: the building sucked. That changed in January, when the new and improved Boca Raton Museum of Art opened at its spacious, not to mention gorgeous, new digs at the northern end of Mizner Park. With 44,000 square feet and two levels, the museum now has a showcase not only for major exhibitions such as its inaugural Picasso retrospective but also for displays drawn from its permanent collection, which includes pre-Columbian art, African art, English ceramics, modern and contemporary European and American art, photography, and a world-class collection of prints.
What once was a place to fill up your tank is now a place to get tanked. Bill's Filling Station, for six years a popular fixture in a converted gas station, fills up every day after work with regular Joes (the gay ones, anyway) enjoying two-fers till 9 p.m. -- and all night on Monday. A cozy patio and bar out back make smoking easier and less offensive, and a well-stocked CD jukebox inside near the main bar keeps the place alive with music. Doesn't matter what you wear, how old you are, or from which side of the tracks you hail; the other friendly faces may not know your name, but pretty soon they'll at least know your taste in men. Speaking of tracks, Bill's is next to the railroad line that cuts through gay-friendly Lake Ridge, and the occasional passing train means shots are just 50 cents. That makes it easy to tie one on.
If you're visiting Fort Lauderdale and you rent a car at the airport, chances are you'll drive by this sign, which is nestled amid the foliage along Federal Highway. The aqua and pink tubes of its classic roadside advertisement have flickered since 1949, beckoning would-be diners to the table. The sign would seem a good omen for visitors and locals alike, hearkening back to a simpler time when all a South Floridian really wanted was a tropical cocktail with a surf and turf. Some things change. Newer neon often stamps out the old. But the Tropical Acres sign still stands. So, if you pass this little landmark on your way into or out of town, don't forget to say goodnight.

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