Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The recent passing of legendary producer Tom Dowd returned the Hit Factory Criteria to the media spotlight, reminding us all that the North Miami studio was the creative birthing spot for so many seminal albums, from Derek and the Dominos' 1970 Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs to the Bee Gees' 1977 Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to Bob Dylan's 1997 aesthetic return-to-form comeback Time Out of Mind. Yet what often gets overlooked is the appeal of the studio itself. Indeed it wasn't just Dowd's own production techniques that had drawn a musical who's who to work with him here. As important as the sounds being laid down on any session is the equipment being used to capture it -- and this studio's analog-style mixing boards, vintage microphones, and sumptuous wooden acoustics have artists from Christina Aguilera to DMX catching flights into Miami when it comes time to record. Accordingly, studio time at the Hit Factory Criteria is pricey, and a few weeks' worth of work can easily produce a hefty six-figure bill; this isn't the spot to cut your garage band's demo. But if you're on a major-label budget, the dizzyingly infatuated look engineers take on when gabbing about the equipment at hand seems justification enough for running up that tab.
Much of the success for this year's smash Floyd Collins lies with its solid-gold ensemble that produced one memorable performance after another. Besides Tally Sessions's work in the leading role, the show featured Blythe Gruda as the ethereal, off-kilter sister Nellie, Brian Charles Rooney as their moviestruck 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 M. Cain, Oscar Cheda, and Barry Tarallo and what you've got is a dream of a cast.
Your night out is over. You step out of the club's raging din and onto the sidewalk, where the relative silence is as shocking as a slap in the face. Head spinning, you realize you might not be up for the drive home just yet. Stumble over to Puerto Sagua for a no-frills Cuban meal in an atmosphere easygoing enough to enable a soft landing when you come back to earth. The restaurant -- a South Beach institution for more than 30 years -- stays open until 2:00 a.m., perfect for clubland's early exits, and it won't break the bank, assuming you have some bank left after those double-digit cocktails.
With a powerful singing voice and boundless energy, Sessions conjured up the memorable title role in the best show of the year, staged by Actors' Playhouse. Sessions's Floyd Collins was a high-spirited Huck Finn whose entrapment in an underground cave led him from optimism to panic to horrible despair. Sessions is that rare musical-theater performer who keeps his work fully grounded in emotional truth. He adroitly handled the difficult challenges of his role -- long, musically complex solos and significant athletic demands.
Sometimes a performer finds the perfect role, or the perfect role finds her. Maybe it's karma or the planets' alignment. Maybe it's sheer luck or hard work -- or all of the above. Whatever the reason, Claire Tyler was the right actress in the right role as JC333 (Jaycee Triplethree), the android actress heroine of Alan Ayckbourn's dark fantasy Comic Potential at Actors' Playhouse. Tyler's performance clearly delineated JC's slow awakening to some hidden core of humanity. Her 'droid's awkward movements began to turn into some kind of nascent grace, and her squawk-box voice mellowed into something musical. The role also had a theatrical dash, as when Jaycee went haywire, spouting bits of long-past performances that had somehow been stored in her hard drive. Tyler has been very fortunate in her short theatrical career, working with top area directors and with excellent scripts. Besides her fine work with David Arisco in Comic Potential and the recent Sherlock's Last Case, she also scored in a trio of Joe Adler productions at GableStage: The Shape of Things, Popcorn, and The Play About the Baby. But it is the android with a heart of gold who remains the most memorable role of her young career.
Mandich may have the experience and credentials to be a jock-talk radio host (including three NFL Championship rings, one from his play as tight end on Miami's undefeated 1972 Dolphins squad), but it's his voice that really reaches out and boxes your ears. Where other jock-talk personalities embrace goofy sports-geek overenthusiasm or know-it-all laconicism (like Hank Goldberg, Mandich's colleague at WQAM-AM 560), Mad Dog's bombastic pipes carry the show. It's impossible to transcribe the stretched vowels and clipped consonants that roll around like gumballs in his mouth, but suffice it to say that the voice makes even the generic parts of his act seem fresh (the studied political incorrectness, barking at callers when the show gets a little slow). Almost everything he says seems funny, including his stock "Never better!" (delivered as if fired from a cannon) in response to callers' ubiquitous "Howyadoon' Mad Dog?" In addition to the afternoon call-in show (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), Mandich can be seen on Channel 10's Sports Jam Live, though it's hard to get the full impact of the voice when you have to watch him too.
Readers Choice: Neil Rogers, WQAM-AM (560)