Miami has been criticized of late for being a city of the very poor and the very rich, where the middle-class has been squeezed out into the suburbs, or even to faraway North Carolina. There's something to this. A drive up Biscayne Boulevard reveals a Miami of the wealthy (wine shops, designer clothing stores, a car wash named Karma) and the poor (tired-looking liquor stores, hookers). But nowhere is the clash of classes more evident than between NE 69th and 70th streets, where diners at trendy Michy's sup on Turks and Caicos conch fillets (escargots style), while next door, down-on-their-luck folks live at the Saturn Motel for weeks on end. The two establishments are separated by an alley, yet they are worlds apart. For $65 you can sample a few tasty plates at Michy's (or get one bottle of wine) — or for the same money go next door and rent a room. Michy's was mentioned in Gourmet last year as one of the nation's top restaurants. The Saturn has a walk-up registration window with bulletproof glass.
The set of Neil LaBute's tale of aborted love between a sweet fat chick and a not-so-sweet skinny guy was lovingly, elegantly, exactingly, and simply rendered by Lyle Baskin, a designer who regularly sends GableStage's brilliant shows rocketing to the next level of awesomeness. Fat Pig was a brutal, heartless story — one of the play's four characters had the soul of a poet, and she was endlessly shat upon by the other three, all of whom had approximately the soul of a moldering potato — and its cruelty was suggested, not by drab colors and an absence of stuff, but by a preternatural stillness. The opening scene's supposedly bustling cafeteria had the feel of a Chuck E. Cheese in the wake of a plague; the final scene's beachside setting looked and sounded like the beach, but somehow communicated "desert." Scenes set in a sushi bar and an office suggested cheerful surfaces and spiritual death, a hollow classiness created by an intelligence driven to make everything pleasant and nothing personal. One look at Baskin's set, pretty and functional and chilling, might tell you more about Neil LaBute than Neil LaBute could tell you about himself.
Miami's weirdness is difficult to wrap your head around. There's the part born out of poverty and hardship and there's also the share that comes with way too much money. The town has both, for sure, but it's mapped in such a way that you rarely get to sink your teeth into both at the same time (unless you're on Biscayne, see above.) After all, how many places in the city aren't one or the otherçThank God for Metromover. Every day its little Jetsonian tram cars trap the crazy homeless guy on his mission to Mars right next to the umbrella-wielding lawyer commuting from his Brickell Key condo. The resultç Hi-larity. Wheel your way between the skeletal condo projects and rub elbows with the guys building them. Snicker as South American diplomats clap local flaks on the back, congratulating them on the fine money pit. Wait, with bated breath, for the whole thing to simply break down (it often does) and watch your fellow passengers devise a harrowing escape plan along the tracks (instead of waiting twenty minutes for it to start working again). The best part about this grand opera of human absurdityç You ride for free ... well, unless you count the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been blown on building and maintaining it.
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Justin Namon
Two giants of twentieth-century opera launching a new star for the 21st: That is just part of what happened in this new production that celebrated — and made — Miami music history. The first collaboration between the great Renata Scotto and Richard Bonynge, this local staging of Bellini's La Sonnambula was a demanding and gorgeous romantic opera. Starring Miami's favorite young diva, Leah Partridge, in a role she seemed born to sing, La Sonnambula was opera heaven, a thrilling and impossibly beautiful show for newcomers and jaded operamaniacs alike. One of the sweetest things about it was that, like the the American Ballet Theatre's Swan Lake, the opera was the kind of production that could not have happened in Miami before the Carnival Center's opening. The Florida Grand Opera, one of the prime movers behind getting the center built in the first place, deserves this new Ziff Opera House, with its ideal acoustics and against-all-odds intimate atmosphere. What's the big deal about operaç The Florida Grand Opera, when it is this good, is a good answer.
New York's Susanne Bartsch is not your run-of-the-mill party promoter. Who else would conceive, let alone execute, a plan in which America's most infamous transsexual, Amanda Lepore, perches naked in a bubble bath in the middle of a crowded dance floor (at the swanky Setai, nonetheless, notorious for charging more than $40 for a plate of pad Thai). Bartsch's name is so synonymous with sensational extravagance that A-list hipsters stand obediently in line at her events. Perhaps it's the ambience — equal parts Alice In Wonderland, Quentin Tarantino-inspired porno, and Cirque du Soleil on acid. Or maybe it's the outlandish decorations — think giant dinosaurs for a scenic backdrop and makeshift stages painted the colors of the rainbow inhabited by gyrating midgets and dancing monsters seemingly ripped from the pages of a Star Trek script. Or maybe they show up en masse for the free-flowing booze, compliments of Ms. Bartsch; the soundtrack of sultry hypnotic trance spun by famed DJs; or the chance to mingle with the it boys and girls of the moment. But whenever and wherever her eclectic party is held, the queen puts a little something together and it's always a shocking success. And it always seems to outdo the last.
Every once in a while since this past Independence Day, an Amazonian goddess runs from the beach to the steps of the Palace Bar & Grill at 1200 Ocean Dr., a sparkly gold tiara holding up her flowing black mane. She dials in her invisible plane from a pay phone on the street, whips around her golden lasso to rope off evildoers, and uses her Athenian might to push automobiles out of her way. Honey, Linda Carter has nothing on this Wonder Woman, the Argentine chanteuse Geraldine. The spectacle attracts gawkers — straight and gay, young and old — enchanted by Geraldine's campy performance of DC Comics's most popular female superhero. "Who is more American than Wonder Womanç" Geraldine rhapsodizes. "When I did it the first time people loved it so much I kept doing it. But I try not to do it that often because then it gets boring." Spoken like a true Brodway superstar.And perhaps being Wonder Woman is a subconscious way of channeling her coming-out journey in Miami, where she first publicly showcased her cross-dressing talents upon arriving five years ago. "In Argentina I was still in the closet," Geraldine remembers. "When my family would leave the house and I'd be by myself, I would get dressed up. I would look at myself in the mirror and cry for a long time. Here I bloomed."Of course Wonder Woman is only one part of Geraldine's creative ensemble. On Monday nights, you can catch Geraldine, Fernandcute, and Juicy P performing a show at Laundry Bar (721 N. Lincoln Ln., Miami Beach). The Argentine-born performers dub themselves the Queen Cabaret. "Once a month we do a big production," Geraldine says. "Two weeks ago we did Marie Antoinette, including her beheading.... I love entertaining and making people laugh. I like to make fun of myself."
For most of the participants in the annual King Mango Strut, the costume and/or performance is a decision made in a beer-induced flight of fancy. We suspect that beer had quite a bit to do with the performance by Justin Steak-N-Shake and the Chubbettes. The bellies don't lie. This group of gleeful fat dudes was conceived for last year's Strut as a pointed lampoon of the hit song du jour, Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack." Relying on their obvious sight gag (hello, overflowing guts and man boobs), the group cranked things up a notch by performing "Bringing Chubby Back" with one of the members painted in UM orange and green. Go Canes! (You can see the live performance video here: www.youtube.com/watchçv=4Ug64K9_X-g) It's one thing to appear in the Strut. It's entirely another to follow it up with a music video. But that's exactly what the corpulent ensemble did, and it's also posted proudly on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watchçv=5Pdh848QrDE). These dudes have no shame, and we love it.
Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus
Florida International University
FIU's rock and roll professor, Armando Tranquilino, teaches all the usual music theory and history courses, but what really caught our attention was a class called "The History of the Beatles." Tranquilino brought a sample lecture to an audience of eager baby boomers — and some of his college students — at a Culture in the City talk in Coconut Grove this past December. The Ph.D. was clad in faded jeans, well-worn black boots, and a nicely cut white shirt that he left untucked under a casual blazer (which, true to rock and roll style, he removed midway through his presentation). Not only did Tranquilino have the gear — a pretty Taylor acoustic guitar and a hefty Rickenbacker bass — but he could play it, too. He played Paul McCartney's exuberant bass line to "I Saw Her Standing There" and exquisitely finger-picked "Blackbird," but his finale — playing along with the immaculate bass line from George Harrison's "Something" — was the real show-stopper. Professor Tranquilino, you rock!
La Gloria Cubana Cigar‎
Once upon a time, Miami had a thriving cigar industry. Factories all over the city employed Cuban roleros (cigar rollers) to carry on their native country's well-known tradition for making the world's finest stogies. The industry, like others, has largely moved overseas; most hand-rolled cigars sold in the United States come from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. But a few factories — and a few roleros — remain, and Leo Peraza is one of them. Peraza, now in his sixties, has been rolling cigars for 50 years, 38 of them in Havana and twelve in Little Havana's El Crédito Cigar Factory. He's the factory's most senior employee. Along with owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, he attends Big Smoke conferences around the country, demonstrating the fine art of rolling for wide-eyed cigar aficionados. Before he began rolling for Perez-Carrillo, Peraza was a rolero in Big Havana as well, and he remembers the work fondly. He especially enjoyed the lectores — people employed to read to the workers as they rolled. Peraza still makes a fine cigar, but "I don't smoke them," he says. "Not really. Every now and then, maybe."
Viernes Culturales / Cultural Fridays
If your guests' visit coincides with the last Friday of the month and some down-home flava is what they crave, then form a conga line and steer it to Little Havana's juiced-up block party on Southwest Eighth Street and Fifteenth Avenue for a deep-fried slice of Miami's historic Latin barrio. Kick off the evening with a walking tour of the culturally rich neighborhood while local historian Dr. Paul George peels layers off of some of La Gran Naranja's spiciest lore. Hungry after your strollç Try a ropa vieja crpe capped by a traditional aromatic cafecito at the I Love Calle Ocho Cafe. Eager to find out if the future holds romance or a new jobç Pop into Azucar Para el Espíritu, the hood's trendy new age boutique, where Noelia will offer your group a sidewalk Tarot card reading for a mere $25. After tanking up on carafes of sangria and tasty Spanish tapas at Casa Panza a few doors away, check out one of the many galleries showcasing folkloric art on the colorful strip. Or barter a deal for unique jewelry, ceramics, or other crafts from one of the artisans peddling their wares right off the street. Eager to cut a rug and show off those snazzy salsa moves to your friendsç Head over to the main stage, where you might find Suenalo Sound System tearing it up under the stars, or where los visitantes might be dazzled by the seductive bata drumbeats and sultry Afro-Cuban dance moves of Ile Ife. Chances are y'all may even end up serenaded by a crowd crowing, "Oye Tancredo, cómete el corazón!"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®