A Cameo Role

The majestic South Beach theater, soon to reopen as a dance club, has been to ruin and back

Laura Quinlan handled the Groovy Movie series, which presented arthouse classics like Metropolis, Nosferatu, and Simon of the Desert, along with vintage cult favorites such as Andy Warhol's Bad and Ed Wood's inquiry into cross-dressing, Glen or Glenda. Wednesday was poetry night, organized by de Onis's sister, Francesca. Among the bards who read were Bob Gregory, Lionel Goldbart, and Glen Ganz.

Of course there were some glitches in the aging theater. In May 1989 Crossover Concerts decided to further diversify its live music offerings by presenting a gospel show. De Onis and the Quinlans made a deal with an outside promoter to put on a BeBe and CeCe Winans concert featuring Whitney Houston as a back-up singer. "It was a really big deal for us. And we were working so hard to make sure the theater was really nice for this gospel show," Laura Quinlan recalls. "At a certain point we realized there was no way we could get the seats replaced and so our maintenance crew painted them red to make them look really nice." The next night gospel fans in silk suits packed the place. "When they got up to go home everybody had red fannies," Quinlan chuckles. "We had a lot of dry-cleaning bills. It was very stressful." The following May the air conditioning failed during David Byrne's concert with Brazilian singer Margareth Menezes and a sixteen-piece Latin-dance band. Everyone sweated and partied on.

Boxing made a brief return when a promoter leased nights for closed-circuit transmissions of Latin American bouts. "We had metal, punk, rock, speed metal, but the most damage that was done at the Cameo was by Colombian boxing fans," Laura Quinlan recollects, with a laugh. "They managed to remove rows of seats."

"We served many different audiences," de Onis says. "Depending on what night you went there it would be a completely different crowd of people. We had, for example, Nigerian bands like King Sunny Ade and the African Beats. And then suddenly you'd see the Cameo filled with beautiful Nigerian people with these fantastic clothes that they wear, and headdresses," de Onis still marvels. "It was like a whole piece of Nigeria all of a sudden was on South Beach. And you'd go, 'Wow, I didn't realize so many Nigerian people lived in Miami.'"

De Onis and owner Zori Hayon closed the Cameo in late 1989 for renovations. Two vestiges of its movie-house days would disappear: the tattered seats and the bubble-gum-covered floor.


The Cameo reopened in March 1990 with a concert by the Sugarcubes. But DJs were gaining momentum. The old movie theater was cruising into the electronica universe.

Michael Capponi was one of a group of young promoters who approached de Onis that year about leasing the theater on weekend nights. He and DJs Ruben Pagan and Carl B. Dread called themselves Global Tribe and transformed the Cameo into a fashionable dance club. They called their party "One." "It was about 70 percent African Americans and 30 percent models," Capponi remembers. "It was a very different time here in Miami. But it was a very cool vibe. It was like an African-hippie movement." The mellow, Afrocentric hip-hop music of A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers was in vogue, he adds. "It was really a down groove."

But as One became more popular, gangs joined in. "And then a lot of fights started breaking out and it wasn't so much about peace anymore," he says with a laugh. Another party was called Industry; DJs played music ranging from heavy metal to hip-hop. "That was a really packed night," Capponi remembers. "There would be 1000 people waiting outside. It was incredible."

Then there was Disco Inferno, an idea that Capponi and DJs Bobby Starke and Gary James borrowed from Texas nightclubs in 1992. De Onis was skeptical. "These guys came up and told me they wanted to do a disco night on Sunday," de Onis remembers. "And I thought, Oh well sure. And I felt kind of bad for them. I thought, Yeah, they're going to lose a lot of money," de Onis recalls. "I was so wrong. This turned out to be the absolute biggest night that we had there."

Meanwhile the Quinlans left Crossover Concerts and the Cameo amid financial difficulties. "The revenues [for live shows] weren't coming in fast enough so some of the partners pulled out," says James. By the end of 1992 de Onis had also left, still marveling at the staying power of disco nights, which lasted five years. The disco madness ended in June 1997 after federal, state, and local undercover agents repeatedly bought cocaine inside the Cameo. Authorities closed the club. A few months later they allowed owner Zori Hayon to reopen after he paid $35,000 in fines and agreed to end the theater's under-21 events, including disco nights.

Since then a steady, predictable stream of musicians, ranging from Bob Dylan to Tricky to Top Vice, have performed there. Occasionally the theater has presented bursts of cutting-edge music. This past March internationally acclaimed MCs Fat Boy Slim, Daft Punk, John Aquaviva, and Todd Terry played the Cameo during the Winter Music Conference.

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