The Coming South Florida Theater Season Is As Much About Where As What

Interior of the former church being turned into The Vanguard Theatre in Fort Lauderdale by some of the people connected to Thinking Cap Theatre / Staff Photo

Interior of the former church being turned into The Vanguard Theatre in Fort Lauderdale by some of the people connected to Thinking Cap Theatre / Staff Photo

To see a list of the 15 shows we are most looking forward to seeing in the coming season, click here.

By Bill Hirschman

Location, location, location.

Usually there isn’t anything terribly sexy, dramatic or even newsworthy about real estate in the world of theater unless it’s the milieu of David Mamet’s cutthroat drama Glengarry Glen Ross.

But as the new theatrical season approaches, South Florida hasn’t seen so much packing and unpacking, opening tubes of Ben Gay, filling out of change-of-address cards, remodeling, ripping up seats, scanning blueprints, updating websites and other signs of physical upheaval as in the past season and the one coming up.

Content-wise, the 2014-2015 season is more of the same: world premieres to venerable warhorses, the latest from off-Broadway to the fourth return of staples on national tours, familiar fare to “I beg your pardon?” titles. It’s everything from Newsies to Old Jews Telling Jokes (that’s what it’s called). A look at those offerings further down in this story.

But what’s new may be where you’ll see them or what they’ll look like. For instance, several companies are playing musical chairs with their venues or expanding where you can see them. Others will spend the season planning upcoming renovations.


But You Gotta Know The Territory

capcropsmIt’s rare that a completely new venue opens, but a group connected with Thinking Cap Theatre is opening a separate concern where the company can perform called The Vanguard Theater. The former church at 1501 S. Andrews in Fort Lauderdale, across from Broward Health Medical Center, will host Thinking Cap and other troupes beginning in the early winter.

It’s not just performing venues. Over the summer, Slow Burn Theatre Company of Boca Raton opened “SPACE” at 4782 NE 11th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. The warehouse provides the company with a rehearsal space with a sprung hardwood dance floor, costume shop with resident costumte designer and scenic shop with two resident carpenters. The space at SPACE can also be used for staged readings.

Check out our calendar by clicking here. We have strived to make our calendar the most comprehensive and up-to-date place to scan for theater in the region – community, professional, collegiate, even high school — stretching out as far as dates have been settled upon even into fall 2015. If your company is not reflected in it (or if dates have changed or when runs are extended), please contact us as soon as possible at

Further south, the most seismic theatrical real estate deal in recent years closed last season, but key developments are slated to occur this season: the resurrection of some kind of theater venue on the site of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. On one track, Miami-Dade County is deep into choosing an architect/consultant/overseer for a 300-seat theater project teaming the county, FIU and GableStage. But Arsht Center board chairman Mike Eidson and the Coconut Grove Theater Foundation are floating an even grander vision of a 700-seat theater adjacent to the smaller one.

Elsewhere, some projects are recently completed and operational. The Broward Center has nearly finished its $56 million renovations ranging from new seats and amenities in the auditoriums, to lobby improvements to entire new buildings like the Huizenga Pavilion that will have a bistro and the Rose Miniaci Arts Education Center. Additionally, The Plaza Theater in Manalapan has opened its Club Plaza cabaret room across the breezeway in the shopping center.

Movin’ Out and Movin’ In

For years now, people have wondered if Palm Beach Dramaworks or the Maltz Jupiter Theater would tour its productions to another county, but Slow Burn Theatre has beat them both. The young company specializing in musicals will still perform in its home base at West Boca Community High School. But last year, it toured next to normal and Chess to the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center and will send productions there again in the coming months. But also this season, Slow Burn is presenting two shows, The Marvelous Wonderettes in October and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in February at the Abdo River Room in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. That makes it the only theater operating in all three counties.

Outré Theatre Company, the purveyor of edgy cult works, is leaving its home in Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center in Boca Raton this season. Its first show, Back of the Throat, will play in October at the tiny Sol Children’s Theatre at 3333 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton and then mount its other shows at the Abdo River Room in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

M Ensemble – the oldest African American theater in the state – moved last season from the Miami Light Project in the Wynwood area to South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay, a long, long way south of its long time base in North Miami. This season, it will do two shows at SMDCAC, but also mount two at the historic Lyric Theater Arts Complex in the heart of downtown Miami, which among other things allows them to reprise its production of last season’s Brothers of the Dust.

Some companies moved last season and are settled in now in the new spaces. Ground Up and Rising, the scrappy little company that has had many homes in Miami-Dade, has in turn begun performing at the tiny Artistic Vibes warehouse near the Falls Shopping Center in Miami.

Evicted by a still-murky health problem at the Roxy Theatre Group, New Theatre sought temporary quarters last season at Artistic Vibes, then settled in for the foreseeable future at the black box theater at SMDCAC.

Meanwhile, a handful of companies that shall remain nameless are looking around for larger or more reliable venues, or easier to deal with landlords.

On The Boards, The Drawing Boards

The Theatre at Art Garage’s parent organization Creative City Collaboration in Delray Beach will begin leasing much of the rest of the surrounding storefronts around it on the first floor of the Old School Square parking garage in February, notably replacing one tenant Puppetry Center of the Palm Beaches. The board plans to begin next summer doubling the size of its main performance space, mostly for the audience, as well as upgrade its educational spaces. It also plans this season to begin a capital campaign to buy the property outright. This is all occurring while the Collaboration evolves three adjacent arts spaces in Pompano Beach — Bailey Contemporary Arts, the Ali Building and an amphitheater — although none are strictly theater-related.


As far as what’s going inside those buildings, schedules seem unusually eclectic (or bi-polar) within the same venue as producers try to figure out what will bring in new audiences, especially “younger audiences” (meaning Boomers and their pre-retirement siblings) and as their creative spirits strain to push at moribund boundaries in search of artistically satisfying challenges.

An incomplete sampling of what is coming, in no particular order:

Top to bottom, Palm Beach Dramaworks has the most consistently intriguing season announced to date. It will open with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the logistically largest production in its history. While the play is often done by schools and community theater, its deceptive simplicity rarely achieves the depth and insight that a professional company can deliver; therefore, its legendary power and effectiveness is often muted. Director William Hayes’ cast will feature returning vets of many Dramaworks productions including Kenneth Kay, Elizabeth Dimon, Patti Gardner, Dan Leonard and Margery Lowe.

image001MA30705723-0001Other Dramaworks entries include Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Forget the lame film versions; when done well, the stage version is a mesmerizing exercise in self-destruction using love and lust as weapons. The cast is promising: Jim Ballard as the Vicomte de Valmont, and Harriet Oser, Maribeth Graham, Nanique Gheridian, Tangi Colombel and Clay Cartland.

There’s also Sam Shepherd’s bizarre tale of family dysfunction in extremis, Buried Child, with Cliff Burgess, Paul Tei, Gregg Weiner, Angie Radosh and Rob Donohoe. And to cap it off, there’s the bravura Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a piece done before a few times in South Florida but which gave Audra McDonald her sixth Tony this spring as deteriorating Billie Holiday telling her life story to an audience during a concert near the end of her life.

estelleparsons4But the show that will bring folks from outside the state to Clematis Street, will be when legendary actress Estelle Parsons headlines My Old Lady by frequent Florida visitor Israel Horovitz. It also stars Angelica Page who, then known as Angelica Torn, made an indelible impression at Coconut Grove Playhouse as Sylvia Plath in Edge and as Honey in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, plus Marie Curie in New Theatre’s The Radiant. The plot is described as “a down-on-his-luck New Yorker inherits an apartment in Paris and must live with his tenants, an old lady and her rigid daughter. Their lives soon intertwine in unexpected and profound ways.”

season is always among the most intriguing simply because of Producing Artistic Director Joseph Adler’s superb taste for thought-provoking work culled from the latest artistic hits as well as lesser known titles from New York and other metropoli. Top of this crop is Miamian Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, which was produced in July at Manhattan Theater Club and in London in 2012. The work examines the tension when a gay youth is named leader of a celebrated gospel choir at a prestigious prep school for African American boys.

Adler has also slated last season’s one-woman triumph for Bette Midler as super-agent Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last written by John Logan, the playwright of Red. The ink is still wet on the script for Harvey Fierstein’s comedy-drama from last season on Broadway, Casa Valentina, about a group of mostly straight men in the 1950s who vacation in the Catskills where they can indulge in cross-dressing. There’s also New Jerusalem by David Ives (Venus In Fur) concerning the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th Century Jewish philosopher; The Night Alive by Conor McPherson (author of The Seafarer) and the 2013 Off-Broadway dark comedy Bad Jews.

Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables always pencils in one mega-musical each season, notably its superb recreation of In The Heights in 2013. This season it’s prepping the region’s first big budget professional run of the glorious Ragtime, the epic adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s novel about Jewish immigrants, African-Americans and waspy patricians colliding in the melting pot that was the early decades of the last century. Set to bow in late January, Ragtime features a stirring score by Lynn Arhens and Stephen Flaherty and a solid book by Terrence McNally. The Broadway bow affirmed the star power of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and Marin Mazzie. Alternatively, literally, is the edgy noirish rock opera, Murder Ballad, a title that few locals are familiar with. While the company’s audiences aren’t always appreciative, Actors’ Playhouse has a strong track record artistically with similar envelope-nudging material, such as Songs For A New World, The Last Five Years and, most memorably, the transcendent production of Floyd Collins in 2003. The company is ripping up its balcony theater to create a stage and seating arrangement that will have the action occurring in and around the patrons.

Fresh off a banner last season that included the Sondheim musical Assassins , Zoetic Stage based at the Arsht Center in Miami is back with three shows, all with one-word titles, Detroit, Trust and Betrayal – make of that what you will. The first is an acclaimed new play by Lisa D’Amour about two suburban couples whose neighborliness is sorely tested. The third is a classic about marriage and fidelity by Harold Pinter, the giant of 20th Century theater whose work is rarely done by professional companies in the region (although Dramaworks tried one last spring). No new works are scheduled this year from resident playwrights Michael McKeever or Christopher Demos-Brown, although McKeever is represented elsewhere and Demos-Brown is working on projects.

Zoetic is hosted by the Arsht Center’s Theater Up Close series, which presents other works as well. The offerings this year are intriguing and frankly daunting challenges including a co-production with the University of Miami theater department of the delightful stage version of the alternate Peter Pan origin story, Peter and the Starcatcher, which requires a huge amount of theatrical imagination and skill to pull off. Similarly challenging is Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into The Woods mounted by a small fledgling company created by Miami-raised but New York-based siblings, the Carunchos, in what promises to be an interesting experiment in coping with a large-scale masterpiece. Plus the delightfully imagistic House Theatre of Chicago is returning with another magic-infused drama, The Magnificents.

The shoestring Alliance Theatre Lab of Miami Lakes keeps improving show by show, but it gained a new level of respect last season with an atypically stunning ensemble production of John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo about a group of ne’er-do-wells in a Bronx bar. This season it opens with Circle Mirror Transformation by one of New York’s hot new playwrights Annie Baker who just won the Pulitzer for another play, The Flick.

20DE3486-DD86-4027-9770-C9EEAEBA7A15MA30757475-0003 - CopyEclectic is the word for the slate at The Plaza Theatre in Manalapan including veteran actor/comedian Avner “The Eccentric” Eisenberg in his one-man show Exceptions To Gravity. But the real headlines are Maury Yeston’s gorgeous score to Phantom, a lovely riff on the classic tale that was lost in the public consciousness when the Andrew Lloyd Webber version exploded about the same time. Equally appealing is The Assembled Parties, an insightful script by Richard Greenberg about secrets among a Jewish family living on the Upper West Side of New York City over a 20-year period, from 1980 to 2000. The play with a superb cast was a justifiable hit on Broadway in 2013. It starts a little slow but rips your head off in the second act.

image001MA30741962-0006The Theatre at Arts Garage in Delray Beach has quickly developed a reputation as a scaled back version of Artistic Director Louis Tyrrell’s Florida Stage with thought-provoking works, some new, some a few years older, but usually something you haven’t seen or heard of. This season, all of the works are by women writers. The show we are looking forward to more than any other this season is Lauren Gunderson’s I and You slated for January. The 2013 play about two high school students working on a class project about Walt Whitman is quite funny as it captures the quirks of modern adolescence, but it becomes a profound meditation on the meaning of life. Local audiences may remember that Gunderson wrote the witty satire on sexism and liberation, Exit, Pursued By a Bear produced by Arts Garage in 2012. This new play has been performed many, many times during the past year in regional theaters across the country. It received the American Theatre Critics Association/ Steinberg New Play Award last year.

image001MA30711801-0019Andrew Kato, producing artistic director at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, keeps gently pushing at the comfort zone of his well-heeled conservative older audience. Yes, he is producing what will undoubtable be an epic Les Misérables at the end of the season. But in the spring, he’s mounting David Mamet’s scorching and profane drama Glengarry Glen Ross. Yes, Fiddler on the Roof has the coveted mid-snowbird season slot with a 50th anniversary production. But he aims to give a fresh approach to Fiddler, as he did with Hello, Dolly! To begin with, he is trying to get permission from the licensing company not to use the classic Jerome Robbins choreography. That’s not a reason to balk: The director/choreographer will be Marcia Milgrom Dodge who has produced success after success including that Dolly.

But more interesting is the Maltz’s choice of the 1974-75 musical The Wiz, the charming take on Dorothy and Friends (or Friends of Dorothy) seen through the prism of an African-American and distinctly urban sensibility. Kato himself will helm this undertaking. Kato has considerable directing experience, but he rarely directs a Maltz show although he is a very hands-on producer. The lead actors traipsing down the Yellow Brick Road will be African-American but the rest of the cast will be ethnically diverse Even this summer, Kato is working on the concept of this new vision, including flying actors and enlisting the anthropomorphic help of Puppet Kitchen which produced the shadow puppets last season for the Maltz’s The King and I.

And off to the side, a treat for theatergoers, is Larry Shue’s farce The Foreigner, not well known among causal theatergoers, but a certifiably hilarious Obie-winning script about Americans’ xenophobic arrogance that emerges when a man trying to find peace from other guests at a hunting lodge pretends to be a non-
English speaker from another country.

Entering its sophomore season with a large chunk of lessons learned, The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton knows what its audience wants. It’s delivering Mame, Oklahoma and Man of La Mancha, and for the really risqué-minded, the once-daring now mainstream  La Cage aux Folles. It has signed contracts for Mame to star needs-no-introduction Leslie Uggams and for La Cage to star Lee Roy Reams whose extensive Broadway credits encompass the original companies of 42nd Street and Applause. Two other “names” have contracts in the mailbox and are awaiting signatures. But the real lesson learned is that pre-recorded canned music is to be avoided. The Wick plans to have a live band at every show either on stage or on a balcony off-stage. All the shows are solid choices, but La Mancha is almost indestructible in anyone’s hands and legendarily can be downright transcendent if done well.

Not a company to sit on its laurels for last season’s triumphant next to normal and Chess, Slow Burn Theatre Company’s upcoming season has Little Shop of Horrors and Rent, but more importantly the Frank Wildhorn musical Bonnie & Clyde, which won cult status but not financial success when it bowed in Sarasota in 2011 and then Broadway in 2011. But the one show most theater fans are salivating over is the reworked version of the musical Carrie starring Anne Chamberlain as the supernaturally endowed misfit and Shelley Keelor as her mad as a maniac mother. Carrie’s original production was one of the legendary flops on Broadway in 1988, but it has been heavily reworked and remounted around the country to far greater acclaim. And in the wings for October 2015, newlyweds Shane Tanner and Amy Miller Brennan will headline last season’s Broadway musical Big Fish. Note how Slow Burn often includes shows that didn’t do well on Broadway but have a cult following.

image004[1]MA30749171-0005Island City Stage
in Fort Lauderdale won six Carbonell Awards this year for Dan Clancy’s The Timekeepers and will remount the piece in December with the same cast and director in association with West Boca Theatre Company at the Levis JCC in Boca Raton. If you missed it, don’t make that mistake again.

It also will host two world premieres in its home venue at Empire Stage. The company, which leans toward plays with LGBTQ themes, will give the first production to POZ by Michael Anan. Set in 2003, the dramedy concerns a young man with tuberculosis who discovers that if he was HIV+ he would be covered by insurance. He arranges to date an HIV+ man with the idea of being infected. The dramedy examines an unconventional love between the two men and an odd family of characters each dealing with their own demons. The other world premiere is of local playwright Michael McKeever’s Daniel’s Husband about a contemporary gay couple who are challenged with the consequences of not getting officially married.

Broward Stage Door in Coral Springs is hewing close to its successful formula with tried and true titles such as I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change. Its big news is securing the rights to the Florida premiere of Old Jews Telling Jokes, a long-running slightly blue comic revue in New York and Chicago in which stand-up comic jokes are acted out as full scenes.

National Tours: Fort Lauderdale is getting the newly-remastered Pippin with its circus theme and the jukebox Motown the Musical which is taking a hiatus on Broadway before returning in 2016. Miami is getting Newsies, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and another visit from the doorbell ringers of The Book of Mormon, and Kravis is hosting the Mormons, Cindy and Pippin. Otherwise across the region, you can see such adventurous unknown fare as Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Anything Goes and Abie’s Irish Rose.

Community theaters continue to give surprisingly talented stockbrokers, schoolteachers and aspiring professional actors a chance to do roles they wouldn’t otherwise get a shot at. For instance, Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts is already at work on The Sunshine Boys only a few weeks after its summer success with Les Misérables. The venerable Lake Worth Playhouse’s 62nd season has already kicked off with the musical Legally Blonde and has slated South Pacific and Mame (two shows that will benefit from the company’s access to large casts) plus Arsenic and Old Lace and The Odd Couple.

On a more rarefied plane, Florida Grand Opera’s new general director, Susan T. Danis, once again is offering a mixture of crowd-pleasing chestnuts and works less frequently seen in the region for its 74th season. Opera lovers will have to fight off singing along with Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan tutte. But they also will hear Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers and the FGO premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s first full-length opera, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Consul. The latter, slated for the end of the season will not be performed in Fort Lauderdale like the other works, reportedly because of scheduling conflicts.

Palm Beach Opera is doing the work inspired by Rent, La Boheme (okay, that’s backward), Gaetano Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, and the world premiere of Enemies, A Love Story with music by Ben Moore and a libretto by Nahma Sandrow based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Outré Theatre Company, the scrappy troupe in Boca Raton, has a unique spin on Othello planned. It’s being directed by Christina Groom as if the classic was occurring in 1950s Cyprus, and stars Troy Davidson as the Moor, Faiza Cherie as the (spoiler alert) doomed Desdemona and Skye Whitcomb as the duplicitous Iago. The season opens with the acclaimed post-9/11 paranoia nightmare Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi. They also plan to stage a full production of the edgy punkish rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in May which it gave a staged reading last season. “Irreverent” and “in your face” doesn’t begin to cover its revisionist look at contemporary parallels with the arrogant sense of entitlement of Jackson’s manifest destiny policy.

South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center is offering a wide array of music and dance events, but it also will host short runs of national tours of Guys & Dolls, and Jekyll & Hyde. But the facility in Cutler Bay is also the new home of New Theatre, which closed out its current season with a superb production of Gidion’s Knot. Their season includes the instant classic about persistent racism, Clybourne Park, and the venerable jury room drama 12 Angry Men. They will open the season with the world premiere of Cuban Spring by local playwright Vanessa Garcia. In it, a family drama revolves around secrets, identity crisis of a separated generation, and the sacrifices one must go through to live in democracy.

Boca Raton Theatre Guild
has slated the ever-dependable tearjerker Tuesdays With Morrie. More interesting is Everyday Rapture, a cross between a musical revue and autobiography. The show describes the true if slightly fictionalized story of a young actress from Topeka, Sherie Rene Scott, as she built a Broadway career including a break-through role in Elton John’s Aida. Besides featuring pop tunes from Roberta Flack, The Band, Harry Nilsson, David Byrne and Mr. Rogers, the show will benefit from casting three of the region’s best singing actresses: Jodie Langel, Ann Marie Olson and Leah Sessa.

Local radio veterans John C. Watts and Caroline Breder-Watts have expanded the number of shows in the Arts Radio Theater series being presented at Arts Garage in Delray. They select radio scripts written during the 1940s and 1950s that adapt well-known film properties and bring them alive with cast members pretending to be in a radio studio, augmented by a raft of inventively-created live sound effects. This year, an expanded slate of shows includes Dracula, Rebecca, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Thin Man and You Can’t Take It With You.

M Ensemble has just announced its season. It opens with the tuneful Five Guys Named Moe revue of Louis Jordan music with a hint of a plot. Then comes The Gift Horse, by Lydia Diamond author of Stickfly, which follows a young woman back to her college days and heads forward on her tumultuous journey to the present. The company will reprise Brothers Of The Dust, Darren Canady’s play that M Ensemble produced last spring about siblings fighting over whether to sell a family farm in the South. It closes with another revue, It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues. The company also plans to make available for touring Having Our Say based on the life of the Delaney sisters.

Thinking Cap Theatre will celebrate its new digs in Fort Lauderdale with perhaps the most intriguing schedule based on titles alone: Waiting for Waiting for Godot by Dave Hanson; Always…Patsy Cline starring Anne Marie Olson, one of the best singing actresses in the region; Vita and Virginia by Eileen Atkins about the love affair between writers Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; The Book of Liz by Amy & David Sedaris (that pedigree is promising right there); Garbo’s Cuban Lover by Odalys Nanin; A Map of Virtue by Erin Courtney, and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Thinking Cap artistic director Nicole Stodard has a feel for making classic comedy come to life as she showed in The Rover.

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