No doubt about it, the hands-down winner this year was the touring production of the long-running, groundbreaking Broadway musical hit, featuring director Julie Taymor's stunning visual imagination. Using a blend of lithe, live actors, huge carnival-like puppets, and an array of exotic theatrical traditions, Taymor took the popular Disney animated movie story and did it one better, reinventing it as spectacular, unforgettable theater. The Lion King blended traditional American musical elements with classic literature (the story of the dispossessed lion cub is a reworking of Hamlet) together with a joyful celebration of African culture. The show was also a happy merger of art and commerce, and the Broward Center was packed to the gills throughout the show's sold-out run.
No doubt about it, the hands-down winner this year was the touring production of the long-running, groundbreaking Broadway musical hit, featuring director Julie Taymor's stunning visual imagination. Using a blend of lithe, live actors, huge carnival-like puppets, and an array of exotic theatrical traditions, Taymor took the popular Disney animated movie story and did it one better, reinventing it as spectacular, unforgettable theater. The Lion King blended traditional American musical elements with classic literature (the story of the dispossessed lion cub is a reworking of Hamlet) together with a joyful celebration of African culture. The show was also a happy merger of art and commerce, and the Broward Center was packed to the gills throughout the show's sold-out run.
Though the season featured several premieres, the best of the crop was Cruz's steamy, sophisticated saga, with its heady blend of raw emotion and poetic language set against an era of wrenching cultural and political change. Cruz, a Miami native who now lives in New York City, has a sizable national reputation that far outstrips his reputation here -- where, oddly, he is largely ignored. Fortunately, the New Theatre has commissioned yet another Cruz play -- and residency -- for next season. As South Florida struggles to reinvent itself as a sophisticated, world-class community, perhaps it's time for us to recognize that world-class artists such as Cruz are already thriving here.

Though the season featured several premieres, the best of the crop was Cruz's steamy, sophisticated saga, with its heady blend of raw emotion and poetic language set against an era of wrenching cultural and political change. Cruz, a Miami native who now lives in New York City, has a sizable national reputation that far outstrips his reputation here -- where, oddly, he is largely ignored. Fortunately, the New Theatre has commissioned yet another Cruz play -- and residency -- for next season. As South Florida struggles to reinvent itself as a sophisticated, world-class community, perhaps it's time for us to recognize that world-class artists such as Cruz are already thriving here.

Much of the success for this year's smash Floyd Collins lies with its solid-gold ensemble, which produced one memorable performance after another. Besides Tally Sessions' work in the leading role, the show featured Blythe Gruda as the ethereal, off-kilter sister Nellie, Brian Charles Rooney as their movie-struck brother, Jerry Gulledge as their haunted father, and Lourelene Snedeker as their warm-hearted, long-suffering stepmother. The cast also featured terrific work from Michael Turner as a guilt-ridden reporter, Brian M. Golub as a wannabe folk singer with a bell-clear voice, and Ken Clement as a blustering, officious engineer. To that add Wayne Steadman, Mark Filosa, Terry King, Oscar Cheda, and Barry Tarallo and what you got is a dream of a cast.
Much of the success for this year's smash Floyd Collins lies with its solid-gold ensemble, which produced one memorable performance after another. Besides Tally Sessions' work in the leading role, the show featured Blythe Gruda as the ethereal, off-kilter sister Nellie, Brian Charles Rooney as their movie-struck brother, Jerry Gulledge as their haunted father, and Lourelene Snedeker as their warm-hearted, long-suffering stepmother. The cast also featured terrific work from Michael Turner as a guilt-ridden reporter, Brian M. Golub as a wannabe folk singer with a bell-clear voice, and Ken Clement as a blustering, officious engineer. To that add Wayne Steadman, Mark Filosa, Terry King, Oscar Cheda, and Barry Tarallo and what you got is a dream of a cast.
Creaghan's understated portrait of an isolated, retired teacher at the end of his long life was a masterful, moving performance, the centerpiece of a lovely production that was the highlight of the Caldwell season. A New York City veteran of stage and television, Creaghan recently appeared in Neil Simon's latest Broadway production, 45 Seconds to Broadway, and in a long list of theaters across the country. Though Creaghan is no stranger to Florida stages -- he performed at the Coconut Grove Playhouse and at the old Planetarium in the late 1970s and early '80s -- Park Your Car is Creaghan's first area appearance since that time. Let's hope we'll be seeing a lot more of him in future South Florida productions.
Creaghan's understated portrait of an isolated, retired teacher at the end of his long life was a masterful, moving performance, the centerpiece of a lovely production that was the highlight of the Caldwell season. A New York City veteran of stage and television, Creaghan recently appeared in Neil Simon's latest Broadway production, 45 Seconds to Broadway, and in a long list of theaters across the country. Though Creaghan is no stranger to Florida stages -- he performed at the Coconut Grove Playhouse and at the old Planetarium in the late 1970s and early '80s -- Park Your Car is Creaghan's first area appearance since that time. Let's hope we'll be seeing a lot more of him in future South Florida productions.
Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
South Florida is blessed with an abundance of theater for kids, but none tops the Actors' Playhouse, which takes children's theater very seriously. For starters, the playhouse, one of the area's major professional companies, has created an entirely separate children's division, led by peripatetic artistic director Earl Maulding, that produces a full season of plays for children as well as provides classes and workshops. Maulding and Executive Director Barbara Stein really aim for excellence, hiring experienced professional actors and designers to staff their children's shows. Then there's the company's National Children's Theatre Festival, which holds a national competition for new children's plays and stages a spectacular weekend event for the winner's world premiere. Finally, there's the context of all of this: Children who come watch the plays often discover they want to attend the main-stage adult fare the playhouse offers. Some kids from the training program end up on stage themselves in the big playhouse musicals like this season's The Sound Of Music. All in all, the Actors' Playhouse not only offers the best in children's entertainment but it also provides South Florida with an important cultural service by nurturing the audiences of tomorrow.
South Florida is blessed with an abundance of theater for kids, but none tops the Actors' Playhouse, which takes children's theater very seriously. For starters, the playhouse, one of the area's major professional companies, has created an entirely separate children's division, led by peripatetic artistic director Earl Maulding, that produces a full season of plays for children as well as provides classes and workshops. Maulding and Executive Director Barbara Stein really aim for excellence, hiring experienced professional actors and designers to staff their children's shows. Then there's the company's National Children's Theatre Festival, which holds a national competition for new children's plays and stages a spectacular weekend event for the winner's world premiere. Finally, there's the context of all of this: Children who come watch the plays often discover they want to attend the main-stage adult fare the playhouse offers. Some kids from the training program end up on stage themselves in the big playhouse musicals like this season's The Sound Of Music. All in all, the Actors' Playhouse not only offers the best in children's entertainment but it also provides South Florida with an important cultural service by nurturing the audiences of tomorrow.

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