Best Actress 2015 | Natalia Coego | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)?

Readers' choice: Art Basel Miami Beach

Best Reason to Stay in Miami for the Summer

Miami Spice

Miami summers are pretty disgusting. Walk outside from June to September and you instantly feel like some invisible giant dumped a damp, warm mop on your head. No amount of showering can rid you of the feeling that you're a sweaty, stinky mess. Then there's the constant threat of a killer hurricane that never comes — the tropical version of the Cold War. Miami turns into a no man's land, with only mad dogs and tourists going out in the scorching midday sun. There's only one thing to do: Seek shelter inside one of the Magic City's air-conditioned restaurants. Luckily, Miami Spice, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's way of preventing a mass exodus to cooler destinations like Asheville (or Anchorage), is implemented, much like an emergency nonevacuation system. The program, which runs from August 1 through September 30, allows you to chow down on three-course lunches for $23 and dinners for $39 at some of Miami's schmanciest restaurants, such as Hakkasan, Azul, and the Cypress Room. These are places that cost hundreds of dollars for dinner any other time of the year, but you, a savvy yet broke gourmand, get to enjoy these top critics' picks for pennies on the dollar. Coupled with the fact that some of these restaurants are booked solid in season, this is one helluva deal. Wonder how you'll get through July? Just peruse the menus of the restaurants where you want to dine — in the comfort of your refrigerator.

"Irregardless," Aimee Carrero drawls, her head and torso wrapped in towels, her wrists covered in gaudy bracelets, her long nails lacquered, "I don't care." No sketch better encapsulates the stereotypical Miami girl. The proof is in the more than 2 million views Carrero and her crew earned for the equally brilliant video surrounding that sublime moment — the viral hit "Shit Miami Girls Say." That clip may have been most South Floridians' introduction to Carrero, a 26-year-old Dominican-born, Miami-raised actress, but she's spent the past two years proving that her chops go way beyond perfecting a Dade County accent. Carrero broke into the biz with guest spots on shows such as The Mentalist and Hannah Montana before turning heads with a four-episode run on arguably the best drama on TV these days, The Americans. Now she's poised to blow up. While doing a regular gig on ABC Family's Young & Hungry, she'll star alongside Vin Diesel in a popcorn-time, big-screen thriller later this summer, The Last Witch Hunter. And in 2016, she'll break barriers as the voice of Disney's first Hispanic princess on the TV show Elena of Avalor. You may not have joined the cult of Carrero yet, but it's basically inevitable.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®