For most South Floridians, late summer means numbing heat, hurricanes, and back-to-school specials. But for those astute and lucky New Times readers, the dog days of August also herald a revived arts scene. Within a month or so, dozens of theater companies up and down the tri-county coast will be primping and priming for their season premieres. A glance at the upcoming stagings, and it appears that the healthy trend toward new, even local, plays and issue-driven stories continues, though classic drama makes an appearance at many a theater. Here's a peek at what lies behind some of the curtains this year:
The Coconut Grove Playhouse (305-442-4000) has thrown out a challenging lineup of musicals and topical dramas, a decided -- and happy -- departure from the safer programming of past seasons. The opener, Urban Cowboy, is a Broadway-bound musical based on the 1980 film, featuring music from same. Then comes Blue, a tale of an African-American family and the disruptive influence of a silky-voiced jazz crooner, with some star power from Leslie Uggams and Clifton Davis. The musical Romeo & Bernadette posits a time-traveling romance between a Renaissance Romeo and a mobster's daughter, while the Tin Pan Alley tunes of songmeister Al Dubin get a hearing in Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Lucie Arnaz (Desi's daughter) comes to town for Once Removed, Eduardo Machado's riches-to-rags drama about Cuban exiles struggling to make their way in Florida. Another name performer, Rue McClanahan, stars in Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks. Two smaller projects are presented in the CGP's Encore Room: Yazmin Reza's The Unexpected Man (Reza's Art was a previous Playhouse hit), and Addicted: A Comedy of Substance, a one-man show about the hard road back from drug abuse.
Coral Gables' New Theatre (305-443-5909) is already well into its new season, which began this summer with Hamlet and continues now with Tom Walker (through September 17). Then comes Ybor City, a world-premiere romantic drama about Cubans in nineteenth-century America from our own Nilo Cruz; Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol; Richard Nelson's Madame Melville; and a crafty tale of art forgery, The Credeaux Canvas. The ever-popular TBA finishes out the season.
Also in Coral Gables, the Actors Playhouse (305-444-9293, ext. 600) continues to offer sometimes ho-hum mainstream programming, but also slips in more adventurous musical fare. The season opens with Alan Ayckbourn's romp, Comic Potential, followed by the Broadway classic The Sound Of Music, and a new take on the detective yarn, Sherlock's Last Case. Three musicals follow -- the intriguing but little-known Floyd Collins; a Broadway-bound revival of The Little Shop Of Horrors; and an off-Broadway tuner, The Big Bang, is the summer closer.
Talk about high drama: Gablestage (305-445-1119) has yet to announce its new season, but artistic director Joe Adler offered his subscribers a startling proposition: Sign up for a "blind" subscription and receive deep discounts. To date over 60 percent of last year's subscribers took his dare, paying into a season that as of yet lacks plays or schedules. That's quite a vote of confidence in Adler's leadership. So come on, Joe, pick 'em already!
Still another Gables-based troupe, Dreamers Theatre (305-445-2626), opens its second season with a "sci-fi romantic comedy": Into The Mist: One Night, Two Motels (November 1-December 8). The world premiere centers on a Miami film crew on location at Niagara Falls, which must cope with disasters on the set, not to mention a princess from another planet. Then follows The Dreamer Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Universe. In keeping with the company's mandate to offer opportunities for local artists, Dreamers continues its innovative programming from its first season -- The Play Reading Festival, The Women's Project, and Plays of The 'Hood, a festival of local short plays.
Those Mad Cats (305-576-6377) in Miami again plan on a string of provocative world premieres, starting with 70 Scenes of Hallowe'en (that's 69 more than their inaugural Helluva Halloween); followed by Cope, a tale of a famous director's fall from grace, by company honchos Paul Tei and Ivonne Azurdia; and Trifecta, David Cirone's latest about the effect of gambling on a group of Miamians.
The Juggerknot Theatre (305-519-5438) also presents a season of innovative world premieres beginning with Bump (October 3-4), followed by Mario Diament's Houseguest, and a multimedia project, Fresh, featuring three South Florida playwrights and three New York playwrights. Michael John Garces's Customs rounds out the season.
Finally there's the new (or reformed) kids on the block, the Cuban American Repertory Theater (305-666-8231), which will follow up its summer inaugural hit Lenin's Omelet with more fresh works: Domino by Marco Ramirez and two plays by Rogelio Martinez, Illuminating Veronica and They Still Mambo in Havana, a site-specific experiment that may well be -- you heard it first here -- the sleeper smash of the season.
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts (954-462-0222), as to be expected, will host an array of touring musicals, beginning with Rent (August 27-September 1), followed by The Lion King, Jesus Christ Superstar, Aida, and Contact. The center gives over stage space to an impressive slate of comedians and comedy troupes.
The Mosaic Theatre (954-577-8243) mounts an ambitious six-show season that kicks off with the wacky comedy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (September 12-29). After that the not-so-wacky Holocaust drama, A Shayna Maidel; David Mamet's The Woods; Nicky Silver's urban comedy Food Chain; William Finn's latest musical A New Brain; and John Steinbeck's classic Of Mice & Men.
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Public Theatre of South Florida opens its fifteenth season with Jeffrey (October 4-27), a comedy about one gay man's crazed love life, and the season moves along strongly from there, with Lanford Wilson's The Fifth Of July and Pastrami On Rye, a world premiere set in a kosher deli in Hell. Then Edward Albee's Three Tall Women; a new family comedy, The Wearing Of The Greenblatts; the Public's new play fest, An Evening of Winners; and the season finale, a new adaptation of Seneca's Oedipus.
One of South Florida's few acting ensembles, the Sol Theatre Project (954-525-6555), enters its second season with yet another tasty menu: Christopher Woods's Murmurs (opens September 20) is a series of twelve monologues from twelve different characters. On deck: As You Like It, Gertrude Stein and A Companion, the Obie Award-winning fantasy Marisol, and Sam Shepard's rock 'em sock 'em love story Fool For Love.
On The Boards Theatre Company (954-523-0506) celebrates its acquisition of a new space in Dania Beach with The Glass Menagerie (October 3-20), succeeded by the most ambitious play list in South Florida: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Arthur Miller's The Price, Christopher Renstrom's Widow's Walk, The Seagull, Julius Caesar, The Subject Was Roses, Congreve's The Way Of The World, Measure For Measure, and The Miser. Whew!
Like New Theatre in Miami, the Hollywood Playhouse (954-538-5500) has already opened its season with Rachel & Julio (through August 25), which will be followed by Michael McKeever's Open Season, Avi Hoffman's latest romp Meshuggah-Nuns, and two musicals -- Phantom and Hello Dolly!