Florida Stage
Besides delivering first-rate performances, Florida Stage artistic director Louis Tyrrell this season struck the right chord with music lovers and theatergoers alike. His productions of Syncopation, The Music Lesson, and The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith proved theater can sing, dance, wail, and waltz. Syncopation, the story of two immigrants in 1911, underscored the basic human need to dance and hear music. As the characters awkwardly stumbled through the waltz and fox trot, they became more human. The Music Lesson transformed classical music classes into moving instruction on life and loss. The Devil's Music was a closely woven tapestry of the blues great Smith's music and harrowing life. Actress Miche Braden gave the role the electrifying singing voice and powerful stage presence it warrants. All three shows enlivened good theater with impressive, live, musical accompaniment. In each piece melody became an integral part of the cast as well as a vibrant and multifaceted vehicle for the excellent drama Florida Stage continues to produce.
Poorhouse
The bare-wood, dimly lit, rustic interior of the Poor House is a stark contrast to the majority of nightlife locales around downtown Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Village. Likewise, denizens of the Poor House are likely to be locals hoping to groove to live, original music (from the likes of Hashbrown, Plutonium Pie, Mr. Entertainment, or the Hep Cat Boo Daddies) rather than the canned dance fare booming from its neighbors. Here you'll rub up against a velvet Elvis, not velvet ropes. The suds selection is also top-drawer. During the steamy summer months, quaff a tall Tucher studded with a lemon slice. When it's cool outside grab an Amber Bock or a nutty Newcastle. The barkeeps are amateur comedians, which adds to the fun. The music's loud enough that you can hear every note, indoors or out. And you can get close enough to the performers to see the whites (or at least reds) of their eyes. If you're put off by the chi-chi crowds prowling the downtown streets on weekends, dip into the Poor House -- it feels normal in here. And is that so wrong?

Broward Center for the Performing Arts
Keith Douglas
If you live in or around the "Venice of America" that is Fort Lauderdale and don't have a boat -- or even that much more economical option, a friend with a boat -- try attending an event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Architect Benjamin Thompson designed the Au-Rene Theater to replicate the experience of being on an ocean liner. He perched it on a hill overlooking the New River and pointing toward the Atlantic, curved the structure and filled in the front with a stories-high wall of glass to resemble the prow of a ship, and finished the theater's ceilings and balustrades in lapstrake cypress. The blue-and-green waves in the carpeting underfoot add to the sensation of being on the bounding main. Oh, did we mention that the acoustics are perfect? Or that there's not a compromised sightline in the auditorium? Or that the venue offers the crème de la crème of national acts from the symphony to the Broadway musical to the Grammy Award winner? No? Silly us.
He was just passing through, never staying in one place more than a year. We knew that, but it's still hard to admit that's he's really gone -- with no forwarding address. That's probably why we feel a little like a jilted lover. The good news is, Chris Chandler liked us. He really, really liked us. He wrote about the area in an e-mail to his South Florida friends, "I like to think of Hollywood as pre-scene'.... The rent is cheap, there are a dozen places to hear affordable live music where the beer is cheap, and there are no A&R reps shaking the bushes to find Eminem taking a leak." High praise indeed. And of course, audiences who heard Chandler perform know this "folken-word" poet was just warming up his praise when he typed that missive. We'll miss the guy who pointed out poetically that the coldest place on earth is a South Florida movie theater, that karaoke-style, cover-tune-like guitar-strumming is crap, and that many of our residents look like George W. Bush when he's asked a simple question (which goes a long way toward explaining the election). Let's hope we do something really stupid that attracts national attention soon so Chandler comes back for a visit.

Theatergoers found a lot of reasons to dislike Paul Tei this season. He played a cold-blooded child-murderer in New Theatre's Never the Sinner and a hot-blooded serial killer in GableStage's Popcorn. But he is so good at being bad that we can't really hold it against him. Tei is the kind of actor who looks at a role not only as an opportunity to perform but also as a chance to create a persona. Consequently he can portray several different degenerates without his performances overlapping. As Wayne, the gun-toting redneck in Popcorn, Tei kept us riveted to our seats -- appalled and laughing. But as Richard Loeb, a wealthy young Chicago man who, along with his lover, kills a young boy on a Nietzsche-inspired whim, he was outstandingly appalling. Tei never let audiences simply dislike his character. With his willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of character definition, he could make Ted Bundy funny. He dared to play the insolent, arrogant murderer Loeb as childlike and capricious -- clubbing a kid in the head one moment and going out for hot dogs the next. Tei's topnotch acting transformed these two good plays into excellent ones.

An actress's success in a dramatic role can fall into one of two categories: the ability to make the unbelievable believable, and the ability to make the believable unbelievably incredible. Bridget Connors managed to do both in her role as a young Jewish woman dying of a terminal illness. That's the believable part. Rachel's plight could easily have been a case study in Harold S. Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. She expressed all the predictable emotions and asked all the right metaphysical questions. The not-so-believable part is the conversion experience she had, which was facilitated by her sister, a devout member of the Christian Science faith. Believable or unbelievable, Connors brought something magical to the role from the moment she stepped on-stage. Her ability to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal left theatergoers feeling as if they were seeing a tragedy for the first time.
There are traditional galleries, and then there's Lumonics, "a specialized sensory environment," as its founders put it, which is easily South Florida's most unusual venue for multimedia art. Housed in a nondescript strip of businesses just north of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Lumonics brings together light sculptures, water sculptures (in other words, fountains), performance art, digital video, laser art, dance, and music, all in one blow-your-mind complex. Dorothy Tanner and her husband, Mel (who died in 1993), started Lumonics as a showcase for large-scale acrylic sculptures that combine bright colors with internal lighting. Those pieces, along with water sculptures, are still displayed in a few small rooms and in the large main theater, which is where things really get interesting. From an upstairs control booth, a pair of artists (originally Dorothy and Mel, now Dorothy and Marc Billard) create one-of-a-kind performances set to music that include digital video projections and lasers dancing across a 35-foot wall that serves as their palette. Tanner and her collaborators originally created their soundtracks using jazz, classical, and New-Age music, but have lately leaned more toward original material by Tanner and Billard. And their regular hour-and-a-half shows have evolved more or less into "happenings," with the main performance followed by late-night parties in the adjacent Nite-Light gallery, where visitors can dance to cutting-edge DJ music or just hang out among the light sculptures.
Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Better still, who can sponsor a punk-rock food fight, inviting fans to attend a show and pelt band members with fruits and vegetables? It's the Mary Tyler Whores, of course, Broward's messy purveyors of stripped down, below-the-belt punk. For authenticity the band includes Joey Image, original drummer for protohardcore pioneers the Misfits. For fun the band sports an irreverent, clever handle. And for the hell of it, the musicians will let you throw your rotten citrus at them for no extra charge. Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room is a prime spot to pick up these Whores.

What sort of music do you like to hear when you just wanna party? In South Florida some folks gravitate toward whumpity-whump thumpatronics. That's fine, but when you want a rippin' guitar solo and high-octane rockabilly, there's no better choice than the Hep Cat Boo Daddies. Comprising rip-snortin' guitar slinger/singer Joel DaSilva, bassist Sean "Evil" Gerovitz, and drummer Randy Blitz, the Boo Dads perform instrumental surf, slow-simmered blues, and even the occasional Smithereens cover in their action-packed live shows. There's nothing fancy about what the trio does. In fact every town oughta have lean, no-frills fare like the HCBDs, who you can always be found thrilling weekend crowds at the Poor House.
Enter the tent of white sailcloth and gauze. Supreme Beings of Leisure play on the stereo, which is apropos, as leisure reigns supreme here. Proceed to the marble-top bar and order a drink, which will be ready in approximately the amount of time it takes to cast your lazy gaze across the Intracoastal. It's all trendy white upholstery in here, like a J.Lo video, but somehow you're too chilled out to care. Perhaps you could be bothered to amble into the dark-wood lounge, where the music's louder, the light is darker, and candles flicker in the fireplace. You are feeling... supremely languorous. Nevis. Rhymes with bliss.

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