Miniaci Theater on the campus of Nova Southeastern University

That Motherhood: The Musical actually stood out as the best musical in Broward or Palm Beach counties over the past 12 months is a genuine shocker. On paper, it's hardly impressive; it's produced by the same team that gave us Menopause: The Musical, and the play's references are as dated as the jokes are corny. But the production was Broadway-ready, with top-shelf lighting, sound design, and props presented with effortless aplomb. The songs were belted out with such gusto by the outstanding four-piece "momsemble" that you could overlook the fact that they were about Costco and "leaking."

Mosaic Theatre

Here was a set that said a lot by saying very little. Mosaic is best-known for its sprawling set designs, like the ones for Dead Man's Cell Phone and Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. These are tours de force of horizontal continuity that stretch across multiple locations. In its compact confinement, Collected Stories couldn't be more opposite. The majority of the work takes place in a cramped Greenwich Village apartment beginning in the 1980s. Douglas Grinn evokes this setting with loving accuracy, down to such quotidian details as the type of magazines that would rest atop the coffee table and the squeaky, perpetually jammed windows, to which anyone who has ever lived in the Village — which no doubt includes many South Florida theatergoers — can relate. You could practically reach out and feel the dust clinging to the letter-bound tomes stuffing the living room's bookshelves. All of this combined to exude a romantic feeling, appropriate for a play set in what was, for writers both aspiring and established, very much a romantic place at a romantic time.

Coral Springs Museum of Art

It's rare to find two artists whose styles are as in tune as Jan Kolenda and Bob Bagley's, and it's rarer still to run across a museum show that plays them off each other as well as this joint exhibition at the Coral Springs Museum. Kolenda works with clay. Bagley is a woodworker. Each had segments of the exhibition devoted to his or her own work, along with a handful of pieces the two artists collaborated on. The marvel, though, is that the works mingled as freely as if they had sprung from the same sensibility — one that prizes the organic over the inorganic, form over function, beauty over practicality.

Boca Raton Museum of Art
Eduardo Chacon

Photography is all about capturing the moment, and no show this year captured its cultural moment as well as this collection of photographs from 1956. That's when a beautiful young man named Elvis Presley was just two years into his soon-to-be tumultuous career and poised to change American pop forever. Alfred Wertheimer was a young photographer-for-hire who had never even heard of Elvis when he spent two brief periods with the singer. But the lensman's instincts were such that his hungry eye was able to catch images that resonate to this day. The exhibition was full of privileged moments filtered through a photographer who knew he was onto something, such as the justly famous image of the singer kissing a young woman he had just met in a hotel diner. The show let us bask in the idea of Elvis as an avatar of potential — Elvis caught in the process of becoming himself.

Norton Museum of Art

The best photographers succeed at freezing highly specific instants — arresting the flow of time and isolating fragments that refine and define it. Richard Avedon, who was one of the best of the best, defined whole eras of our visual culture through his camera lens. This retrospective at the Norton included more than 150 photographs he took for Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and the New Yorker (where he was, amazingly, the first staff photographer). The focus may be fashion, but the exhibition and its hefty catalog handily transcend that rarefied world to preserve glimpses of crystallized history. Starting on location in the 1950s and later moving into the studio environment, Avedon rightly realized that fashion isn't just about the clothes; it's about the personalities that inhabit them, and over the course of decades, he mastered the art of distilling personality to its ineffable essence.

Old School Square

It could be said that we have two seasons in Florida — Hurricane Season and Not Hurricane Season. But that would be leaving out an important time of year: Festival Season. Our great festivals include the likes of SunFest, Beerfest, and Garlic Fest, but the art festivals have never been highlights. Stitch Rock set out to change that. With crafts that would give Grandma fits — made by tattooed grrls who would give her nightmares — Stitch Rock provides a venue for the next generation of crafters. Indie shoppers form a line around the Old School Square in Delray Beach hoping to get a free door prize. For the unlucky ones, the vintage goods, upcycled crafts, and gourmet cupcakes make everything OK again. And although it may be only 4 years old, Stitch Rock is already a Festival Season fixture, with the fifth installment already scheduled for October 1.

Norton Museum of Art

History joined forces with art to make this show at the Norton more than just a bunch of paintings. The 40 works included were part of the enormous collection of Jacques Goudstikker, a prosperous Dutch dealer whose inventory was confiscated during World War II by Nazis under second-in-command Hermann Göring. Among Goudstikker's specialties were works from the Italian Renaissance, early Dutch and German paintings, Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th Century, French and Italian rococo works, and 19th-century northern European paintings. It took more than half a century for a fraction of the looted art to be returned to the dealer's estate, and fortunately works by such masters as Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob van Ruisdael survived to become part of Goudstikker's Hollywood-worthy adventure story.

Boca Raton Museum of Art
Eduardo Chacon

A great museum must perform a delicate balancing act of satisfying the public while also expanding and enhancing that same public's cultural literacy. The Boca Museum has long done an exceptionally fine job of giving the public both what it wants and what it doesn't even know it needs. That has especially been true under the leadership of Executive Director George S. Bolge, who is leaving this summer after roughly 16 years at the museum. During his tenure, Bolge has programmed his share of crowd pleasers, including artists as disparate as Picasso, Duane Hanson, and Purvis Young. But he has invariably emphasized less-familiar artists as well. In the past year alone, he has paired an exhibition of Alfred Wertheimer's photographs of Elvis Presley at 21 with a retrospective of relatively obscure American painter Stanley Boxer; coupled a blockbuster M.C. Escher show with a much smaller one focusing on impressionist Mary Cassatt's works on paper; and juxtaposed Italian artist Valerio Adami with well-known American photorealist painter Robert Cottingham. Most recently, he coupled a flashy "CUT! Costume and the Cinema" show with a horizon-expanding look at California impressionism. Let's hope the museum carries on the great tradition he established.

Approached individually, either one of these two ambitious surveys of Latin American art would be a force to reckon with. Seen together as essentially one big show, which is how the museum presented them, they achieved even greater breadth and depth. The breadth came from the historical context provided by the Goodmans' collection, here represented by 74 works by 46 artists. Dr. and Mrs. Goodman have been seriously collecting Latin American art for roughly two decades; their abundant taste and discernment are evident in the choices they've made, from great Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros to such surrealist masters as Cuban Wifredo Lam and Chilean Roberto Matta. The smaller, ostensibly secondary show of 56 works by 41 artists, assembled by in-house curator Jorge Hilker Santis from the museum's sizable permanent collection, provided depth as well as an emphasis on more contemporary work. As a sweeping study in contrasts and comparisons, the two exhibitions constituted an unbeatable combination.

Girls' Club Collection
Robin Hill

For starters, there were no actual paintings in this daring little show at the equally daring little downtown Fort Lauderdale gallery known as Girls' Club. Instead, Frances Trombly's installation, which takes up the gallery's entire first-floor display space, is a suite of pieces designed to make us think about painting. Each of the linked works is a blank "canvas" made of hand-stitched fabric and either placed face-down on the floor or propped against a wall, back to us. Like a Zen koan, the title "Frances Trombly: Paintings" is meant to jar us onto another plane of awareness, where we start thinking about (and questioning) our ideas about what constitutes art and what does not.

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