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Jeff Daly/Courtesy of HBO

When it comes to making Miami a Hollywood star, it's hard to match the staying power of an '80s TV show about an undercover narcotics detective who drove a Ferrari and lived on a sailboat with a pet alligator. Miami Vice framed the Magic City in vibrant pastel colors and B-roll footage of the city's skyline, Ocean Drive, and Biscayne Bay against the gritty fictionalized account of the heady Cocaine Cowboys era. But give HBO hit Ballers credit for taking that formula and running straight down the sideline with it. The dark comedy starring Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson about the crazy world of professional football channels Miami Vice in just about every episode. But instead of drug dealers and narcs, the main characters are football players and sports agents. Ballers is chock full of Miami clichés and stereotypes, but — just like Vice — pulls it off in a campy, gloriously over-the-top production that makes locals appreciate the glitzy façade that often lulls unsuspecting out-of-towners into a sense of security. For instance, Ballers has a lot of cocaine, exotic cars, beautiful people, and public sex romps. But the show also dives headfirst into the city's very real appetite for hucksters and bamboozlers looking to come up by any means necessary, including resorting to blackmail and double-cross deals. Unfortunately, Florida legislators have called an interference play that has led to Ballers' departure from our sunny place for shady people. After the state refused to renew film incentives, the show's brass decided to pack up for La-La Land. Though Ballers will still claim Miami, its future seasons won't ever quite capture the Magic City's Zeitgeist the same way.

Photo by Monica McGivern

The stone building on the corner of NE 39th Street and North Miami Avenue looks just as swanky as any other showroom in the high-end haven of the Design District. But there's one major difference: Inside, instead of handbags and shoes more expensive than your monthly rent, there's art. Really good art, actually. This is the new home of Primary Projects, the space started by the Primary Flight crew shortly after it made waves by bringing a massive installation of murals to Wynwood. (Look how that worked out.) Primary Projects ran a small space on the other side of the Design District for several years and then spent a brief time in downtown Miami before returning to its original neighborhood in a newly luxurious form. Few local artists have the chance to exhibit their work in a gallery with tall, retail-style windows and a prime position among the 1 percenters, but that's exactly what Primary offers. Since it opened at its new address in September 2016, it has shown works by Miami stars such as Autumn Casey, Kelly Breez, and Beatriz Monteavaro. And though the building melds effortlessly into the Design District landscape, Primary's artists and curators aren't trying to blend in. Just imagine high-strung shoppers with Louis Vuitton bags accidentally wandering into a recent exhibit of fake newspaper pages with political headlines reading "Fuck It Will Set You Free." It's a lovely idea.

Readers' choice: Bakehouse Art Complex

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas photo

You can't please all the people all the time, especially not when those people are extremely opinionated movie buffs. But Cinépolis comes close. It shows all the big Hollywood films, from superhero movies to goofy bro comedies, all screened with Sony 4K digital projection to perfectly capture each explosion and off-putting fart joke. But Cinépolis also regularly programs indie fare, giving fans of lower-budget features a swanky spot to catch the latest releases. Its theaters have both traditional (but still relatively new and comfy) seating and also four Premier screens with plush leather seats and food trays, so you can decide to take in a flick the old-fashioned (AKA cheaper) way or impress your date by splurging on comfort. The only real downside to Cinépolis is its popularity — you'll probably want to buy your tickets in advance on weekends. But, hey, it's popular for a reason.

Readers' choice: Cinépolis Coconut Grove

Courtesy of A24

At this point, there's really no debate: Moonlight was the single best film of 2016. In fact, by most critical takes, the Best Picture Oscar winner is an all-time great destined for decades of adulation among cinephiles. So let's take a step back for a moment and realize how extraordinary it is that two young Miami natives created such an exceptional work of art centered on a tale of a young black man dealing with poverty, a drug-addicted mother, and his emerging sexuality in the projects of Liberty City. The heartbreaking and honest performances of Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes were representations that millions of Americans needed to see and feel. But for Miami natives, Moonlight's meaning was amplified tenfold. After movies have portrayed Miami through endless shots of Biscayne Bay, Ocean Drive, and Star Island over the decades, the contrast of the lush landscape and dilapidated street where we first meet Juan is like a painful breath of fresh air. Thought we might convince ourselves otherwise, most of us aren't variations of DJ Khaled or Pitbull. To have native sons Berry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney create such searingly honest portraits of real Miamians is a gift we can't take for granted and one we won't soon forget.

Photo by Deborah Gray Mitchell

You need not love basketball to marvel at this magisterial hoops drama from M Ensemble. Directed with precision and perfection by its writer, Layon Gray, the play dramatizes the tumultuous 1939 season of the New York Renaissance, a hardscrabble all-black basketball organization from Harlem, whose players overcame obstacles to win 2,588 games across segregated America. Did everything happen exactly as Gray presents it? That's doubtful, but veracity is immaterial: His production was a mesmerizing argument for poetic license — emphasis on the poetic. The players' practice drills became the tactile pulse of Kings of Harlem, the choreographed sprints, passes, and dribbles attaining a Zen-like quality that would make Phil Jackson smile like Buddha. It was basketball as ballet, buttressed by elegiac music selections, cinematic projections, heavenly lighting, and a fully immersive scenic design that transformed a theatrical venue into a hardwood basketball court with spectator seating on either side. Inspirational sports stories come and go, but M Ensemble's production lingers long after the final buzzer.

Photo by Joan Marcus

There's something about the traditional Broadway musical that feels, well, staged. Even the deftest directors can't conceal the inherent, disruptive artifice of characters bursting into song. That's what made Actors' Playhouse's production of this rock 'n' roll road show so unique. Million Dollar Quartet, which imagines the rollicking music, humor, and infighting of a studio confab among Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, is in its own way as whimsical as people-gobbling plants and demonic barbers. But artistic director David Arisco's naturalistic direction and his cast's remarkable verisimilitude overrode the perception that we were watching a fantasy. We were eavesdroppers of an apocryphal hangout, witnessing four legends shoot the shit when they didn't want to shoot one another. And it was a loud hangout: The songs, arriving organically and ending with little fanfare, had an amped-up, raw imperfection that seemed to filter from the convincingly accurate onstage recording booth. The production was another reminder of the boundless creativity Actors' Playhouse can achieve in its flexible upstairs venue.

Photo by George Schiavone

GableStage audiences may have discovered Wesley Slade as a manic director in 2016's It's Only a Play, a neofarce performed in broad strokes. There was little in that performance that suggested the depth of feeling and shattering emotional resonance of Slade's return to GableStage 11 months later in Hand to God. The dark comedy about belief and grief represented GableStage at its vintage peak — uproarious humor, anarchic action, the irreverent tipping of sacred cows — and Slade's dual performances were the nucleus around which all other elements rotated. As Jason, a retiring teenager with a history of repressed anguish, Slade emanated vulnerability and selective aphasia. As Tyrone, a hand puppet whose power increased the more its owner requested its services, Slade was hyperconfident, uncouth, compelled by the darkest forces of human nature. It was a performance that teetered on the border between calculation and abandon, control and possession, all expressed in Slade's dexterous puppeteering skills, as well as his conflicted facial expressions and vocal inflections. The result was a funny-scary internal wrestling match — a stirring star turn in multiple dimensions.

Photo by Nicole Stodard

For an actor, there's little else more terrifying than your first solo show: the attention, the pressure, the insane number of words. Moreover, there's no other actor onstage to save you. There's no escape hatch or parachute if you mess up, which seems like an appropriate metaphor when discussing Thinking Cap Theatre's Grounded, George Brant's timely exploration of a fighter pilot's existential crisis. If Niki Fridh was sweating bullets before the show, you certainly couldn't tell from her performance. In her finest hour yet, she embodied all aspects of her character's increasingly complicated personality, from the initially cocksure, self-determined ace to the panic-stricken, criminally overworked drone operator who discovers the moral gravity of remote warfare. Along the way, she navigated challenges both universal — juggling a meaningful career with domestic tranquility — and specific, such as the psychic, all-encompassing traumas of war that don't end when reassigned to the so-called Chair Force. From witty and sexy to numb and broken, Fridh left no emotional stone unturned, and probably uncovered more than existed on the page, while manning the controls for an unforgettable ride.

Photo by George Schiavone

Some directors assert their idiosyncratic visions atop any material they touch; others acquiesce gallantly to the specific needs of each source. As artistic director of Zoetic Stage, Stuart Meltzer exemplified the latter approach during his company's eclectic 2016-17 season. From plays to musicals, solo shows to bustling ensembles, world premieres to established classics, this gracious chameleon helmed projects that were as divergent as they were unassailably difficult. He created a benchmark style for Michael McKeever's gripping premiere After by staging the play's domestic tête-á-têtes like verbal boxing matches of advances and retreats, parries and thrusts. He lovingly revived Stephen Sondheim's challenging Sunday in the Park With George like a master painter himself, creating a sustained celebration of color, art, and life. With !Fuacata!, he developed an exactingly produced one-woman show from scratch and guided Elena Maria Garcia to a performance that felt like a career summation. He finished the season with Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, finding both the humor and devastation in this patience-demanding experiment while using the many hidden treasures in the staggering set design. In each case, Meltzer exceeded the show's herculean standards with the illusion of ease.

Photo by Nicole Stodard

It takes a certain kind of madness to even attempt to stage a play like A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney and a certain kind of genius to pull it off. Lucas Hnath's offbeat character study of the impresario seems designed in part to exasperate: It's written like an ADHD screenplay, with the actor playing Uncle Walt — in this case, an extraordinary Peter Galman — restlessly shuffling through moods and scenes with the clipped command, "Cut to... cut to... cut to." Thinking Cap's spellbinding production last fall wasn't for everybody, but then again, few of its masterpieces are. Artistic director Nicole Stodard followed Walt Disney with another polarizing work, Mud, a modernist classic of urban decay in which three tortured characters envelop themselves in a cocoon of codependence. Ever one to find beauty in darkness, Stodard employed impeccable lighting and sound choices that created a multisensory experience drenched in dread. This year's TCT productions continued to express the company's mastery of both the technical and narrative aspects of theater while tackling relevant themes: Grounded analyzed the emotional shrapnel of drone strikes, and Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties addressed feminism in the Trump era.

Readers' choice: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®