Andy Quiroga is one of our dependably elastic character actors, excelling in invariably smallish parts such as the homoerotic hustler in Mangrove Creative Collective's Paradise Motel and the volcanic father in Alliance Theatre Lab's Off Center of Nowhere. But this year's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune provided him with the meatiest role he's enjoyed in years, a riveting reminder he has the magnetism to carry a show. In the rebranded Alliance Theatre's comeback show, written by Terrence McNally, he played Johnny, the male part of a one-night stand that might become something more, if only the lonely waitress would just acquiesce to his plans for their future. Quiroga displayed a rare and, for this role, necessary ability to act creepy and sincere at the same time. At various points in the play's two extended acts, he was as clingy as plastic wrap, as chivalrous as a knight, and as emotionally naked as a support-group member. Until the very end, we didn't know exactly what to think of him, which means he was doing his job exactly right.

Henry David Thoreau, the original hipster, famously wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Occasionally, a performance will so accurately convey that axiom that it's almost uncomfortable to witness. Chaz Mena accomplished this feat in Zoetic Stage's Detroit at the Arsht Center. He found the quiet desperation in Ben, an unemployed husband of Anytown suburbia who was perennially building a financial website that never materialized, watching NASCAR programs on max volume in a zombified stupor, and staring a few beats too long at his younger, blonder, always underdressed new neighbor. No matter what the script dictated for Mena, from cooking real meat onstage to nearly breaking his leg on his neighbors' unfinished porch, he never lost that hard-wired sense of existential malaise that we call the midlife crisis. And when he unveiled a game-changing secret in the play's discomfiting, climactic bacchanal, the result was both hilarious and heartbreaking. Detroit may have been an equal-opportunity ensemble piece, but Mena took the reins and stole the show.

Honestly, this one is a dead heat between two unforgettable, back-to-back GableStage standouts: Angie Radosh's intolerant, grieving mother in Mothers and Sons, and Natalia Coego's untethered id of Judaism in Bad Jews. In the interest of variety — Radosh, after all, has become the Meryl Streep of South Florida theater — this award goes to the upstart Coego, a still-unfamiliar face on Miami stages, whose performance as the devout, delusional, and argumentative Daphna Feygenbaum felt transmitted from somewhere else, like a divided synagogue in Williamsburg or a Tel Aviv café on an election eve. Wearing a frazzled nest of hair and peppering her performance with subtly condescending body language, Coego spewed judgmental proclamations and insults that spilled forth with an inextinguishable velocity and impact, disproving the old adage about sticks and stones. Words can indeed hurt, to the point of severing families with the sort of permanence only religion can provide.

GableStage director Joseph Adler has a knack for spotting talent before anybody else and then casting that talent in roles that seem both introductory and definitive. For evidence, look at Betsy Graver (Blasted and Farragut North), Ryan Didato (Red), and this year's Best Actress winner, Natalia Coego (Bad Jews). Arielle Hoffman continued this tradition with her stunningly acrid, marvelously lived-in performance as Ellie, the 17-year-old estranged daughter of a morbidly obese English professor in The Whale. Hoffman more than held her own with Gregg Weiner, one of the heavyweights — literally, in this case — of South Florida theater, playing off his character's 11th-hour bonding overtures with a kind of pitiless contempt that must have been challenging to summon. She embodied the modern jaded teenager with brutal authenticity, right down to her gestures, gait, and posture. And when Weiner finally pierced her armor of long-simmering anger and condescension, it was understated and beautiful, one of the most moving theatrical moments of the past year.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
Photo by Diego Pocovi

There are plenty of reasons Actors' Playhouse's Murder Ballad was the best musical of the year, including a stunningly reimagined set design, outstanding musical direction, and superb lighting. But without a cast that could perfectly translate the show's whirlwind of lust, death, longing, and mordant humor, it would have been all for naught. And this quartet of actors was so exceptional that they should take this production on tour. Chris Crawford brought seething rage and sexual inhibition to his Manhattan bartender, Blythe Gruda convincingly portrayed a young woman torn between domestic security and forbidden pleasure, and Mark Sanders made plausible the tragedy of his spurned lover and the dawning acceptance that violence is his only recourse. Mariand Torres kept these wild egos and libidos in check as the narrator, a goth-chic barkeep whose dark sense of mirth cut everybody down to size. Collectively, they were like the four panes of a window into the complicated human heart — broken though it may be.

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Justin Namon

The script of Peter and the Starcatcher — the high-seas coming-of-age prequel to Peter Pan — left much to be desired. But the Arsht Center's production was as inventive as the story was overplotted, conceiving an imaginative land of danger and wonder. Its witty lighting and transportive sound design had a lot to do with the play's atmospheric vision, but at the center of it all stood the mammoth set by Yoshinori Tanokura, which actor Nicholas Richberg compared to "a big jungle gym playground." With its twin balconies and elevated breezeway, its many ropes and stepladders and nautical props, Tanokura's vision for the deck of a rickety cargo ship was infused with an architect's visionary quirks as well as a mariner's splendor. More important, it was as functional as it was ruggedly attractive, because it required the actors to scamper around it at all times. The Arsht was the first regional theater in the nation to produce Peter and the Starcatcher, and future companies would be wise to follow Tanokura's example.

Palace Bar & Restaurant
Karli Evans

If you ever skip services for drag brunch at the Palace on Sundays, Tiffany Taylor Fantasia will still take you to church. A mainstay of the South Beach drag scene and a Miami native, Fantasia is old-school drag entertainment at its finest. Whether she's serving disco diva, glamor doll, or gospel granny, she's sure to give it her all. We once saw her kick her shoe off in the middle of a performance, and it never came back down (it wound up on the restaurant's awning). Legend has it she once threw her wig off during a performance, and it wound up being snatched by a passing car that never stopped. Whenever she gives a performance — whether on the main stage at Miami Beach Pride, during charity events, at a pageant, or at her regular stomping grounds off Ocean Drive — she never holds back. Catch her every week during her hosting gig at the Palace Wednesday and Saturday night.

twitter.com/tiffanyfantasia

Orlando Leyba is the voice of the Miami Everyman, and anyone who knows an Everyman in Miami should already know that's a pretty solid bedrock for a comedy act. A married man who until recently was stuck in a dead-end 9-to-5, Leyba took his stories of domestic quibbles, office blues, and general life in South Florida to the stage, with hilarious results. In fact, he's now taken his act across the country and is a regular opening act for comedian Michael Yo. "Hey, Lando, we're trying to make this quota, and I'm going to need you to give me 110 percent this week," Leyba often says onstage while mimicking his old boss. "Relax, buddy — I wasted 50 percent talking myself into just coming here," he quips. Luckily for audiences, it never seems like Leyba has to talk himself into getting onstage, where he always gives 110 percent.

heylando.com

In the heart of Little Havana, amid the art galleries and the cigar rollers, is a quiet dance studio that's been teaching some of Miami's finest bailarines for more than a decade. Brigid Baker created the 6th Street Dance Studio as a space where dancers and artists can break down the usual barriers of traditional contemporary dance. The enormous studio, with its luminous floor-to-ceiling windows, is inspiration enough to take a class. And Baker, a New York transplant who has studied under the likes of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, is truly a jack-of-all-trades: She even created a style she calls "lightbody," a fusion of ballet with quantum physics and holistic perspectives. Whether you're a serious dancer or simply interested in moving your body in new ways, lightbody classes force you out of your shell and into an exploratory realm of motion. The studio also offers contemporary ballet and urban dance classes and on occasion hosts guest artists.

The Coconut Grove Arts Festival has been a part of Grove culture for 52 years. Fifty-two. CGAF, as it is charmingly called, is beloved by Coconut Grove residents and tourists alike. The festival takes place every year in February, when it spills over McFarlane Road, South Bayshore Drive, and Pan American Drive. Bringing together all aspects of the arts — music, literature, artwork, handmade crafts, and even food — CGAF is designed to entertain all ages. And this past year, New Times organized the fest's music showcase, which, well, rocked. (We know, modesty is one of New Times' strong suits.) The dates for CGAF 2016 have already been announced: February 13, 14, and 15. Where else can you get so much entertainment for so little ($15 per day)?

cgaf.com

Readers' choice: Art Basel Miami Beach

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