Miami theater 2011: Best of the best

It's been an up-and-down year for South Florida theater. We saw mostly entertaining productions, with a few misses here and there, but those that did stand out left us feeling upbeat about the Magic City's scene. To celebrate the 2011 season, we chose some of our favorite moments and performers. End-of-the-year lists can be so arbitrary and subjective — but that doesn't stop us from doing them anyway. Let's go!

Best Actor: Jim Brochu, Zero Hour. Jim Brochu's transformation into the verbose and hilarious Zero Mostel was an outstanding achievement for the middling Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. The one-man play about the legendary entertainer would be a daunting challenge for any actor. But Brochu's turn as Mostel was frighteningly uncanny. Brochu commanded the stage with a bombastic voice, darting eyes, and tireless kinetic energy, completely losing himself in Zero's skin.

Best Actress: Annette Miller, August: Osage County. Annette Miller really nailed the drug-addled mad-lady dynamics of Violet, the pill-popping matriarch in Tracy Letts's emotionally charged and darkly funny August: Osage County, a play about a dysfunctional family forced to confront some thorny issues. Miller skillfully balanced all of Violet's complexities throughout the sometimes-exhausting three-hour play, revealing the character's menacing side as well as drawing sympathy for a woman who desperately tries to forget the past while dealing with the present through the use of narcotics.

Best Supporting Actor: Teo Castellanos, The Brothers Size. Teo Castellanos proved once again he is South Florida's premier kick-ass actor's actor, with an engaging and nuanced performance as Elegba in GableStage's production of The Brothers Size. He took the play's protagonist and made him wholly likable. Elegba is kind of a menace. You're not entirely sure whether he's to be trusted. Yet Castellanos's perfect blend of charisma, vulnerability, and honesty made Elegba a sympathetic and tragic figure. It was an all-around masterful performance from an actor who knows how to play in the shadows.

Best Supporting Actress: Lela Elam, Crowns. The gospel musical Crowns, performed by M Ensemble, was a full-on spiritual celebration with rap, gospel music, and dance. The cast was flawless, bringing Regina Taylor's exquisite script to soul-stirring life with verve and power. But no one shone quite as brightly as Lela Elam. Through a fiery performance that was equal parts showmanship and downright nuttiness, and her outrageous rants under elaborate church hats, Elam pretty much stole the show. And this was while working alongside a Tony Award-winning costar. Comical, overbearing, loud, and blistering, Elam brought new meaning to "crazy church lady" with hysterical results.

Best Set Design: Sean McClelland, August: Osage County. Actors' Playhouse featured one of the most bad-ass set pieces ever put on a South Florida stage in its production of August: Osage County. Set designer Sean McClelland's massive and beautifully intricate set was basically a house cut in half. The entire play takes place in the Weston family's rustic three-story home, and that's exactly what the audience got. With amazingly complex detail, the structure was a metaphor for the Westons' weary plight. But the home also became a character unto itself thanks to McClelland and his crew's masterwork, a monolith of set-piece excellence.

Best Director: Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size. To no one's surprise, performing arts wunderkind Tarell Alvin McCraney proved he could not only write a deeply nuanced play but also direct the crap out of it. The local boy gone awesome was able to pull some moving performances from the three men who made up his cast. A stripped-down stage and some charged and enlightened performances, especially from Teo Castellanos, proved that the sky is the limit for McCraney.

Best Script: So My Grandmother Died, Blah Blah Blah. Filled with pop cultural references, Wikipedia entries, textually dense psychodrama, and existential meanderings, Mad Cat Theatre artistic director Paul Tei's So My Grandmother Died, Blah Blah Blah was a theater experience that can be described only as tripping balls while journeying through the mind of a girl suffering severe writer's block. Tei's script was an amalgam of fascinating characters, daring story lines, and well-timed Oprah jokes.

Best Musical: Jersey Boys. A cursory glance at Jersey Boys, the musical biography about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, might leave one with the impression that it's simply a silly musical with four guys dressed in red blazers dancing in unison and singing doo-wop numbers for four hours. But the true story of the pop-rock group seems to have been tailor-made for a Broadway musical. Blessed with an almost obscenely talented cast, and performed with crisp choreography and outstanding performances, Jersey Boys was everything the Arsht Center has been looking to do: bring Broadway to Miami. It was Goodfellas in a jukebox, a toe-tapping extravaganza that should pave the way for more Broadway hits to come down I-95.

Best Comedy: Celebrity Autobiography. Writer/producer Eugene Pack's idea to have comedians and actors read through actual celebrity autobiographies was inspired. It was the only production this year that had us laughing throughout the entire performance. From Sylvester Stallone's book, which features a list of things in his fridge and tells us to talk to our muscles when we work out, to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee's invaluable guidance on how to have sex while driving — "Be careful. There's no bigger bummer than crashing your car mid-fuck." — Celebrity Autobiography's sharp wit and side-splitting performances cut through our celebrity-worship culture to show us just how narcissistic famous people are. And how they're also dumber than a sack of dirt.

Best Play: The Brothers Size. GableStage's The Brothers Size is the epitome of playwriting and production exceptionalism. Tarell Alvin McCraney's soulful tale of two brothers heading in opposite directions was full of heart and mythological symbolism, making it one of the most honest and endearing plays to hit Miami. From the outstanding acting to the intellectually moving script, The Brothers Size is a superior achievement by one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in American theater.

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Chris Joseph