Photo by Colin Brennan

Hip-hop is a genre typically defined by someone vocalizing with rap. But as Black Violin, Fort Lauderdale's Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste have turned that idea on its head and stripped it of its literal voice. Known as Kev Marcus and Wil B, the classically trained violinist and violist (respectively) craft hip-hop symphonies with the sound of their stringed instruments and the help of a DJ. Marcus was 9 years old and Baptiste was 14 when they first picked up their stringed instruments, flourishing as performers at Fort Lauderdale's Dillard High School. They were influenced by the sounds of jazz violinist Stuff Smith, who expanded the ways the instrument could be used in music. Black Violin started out playing South Beach clubs in hopes of booking shows. They now travel the world touring and visiting schools to play with local youth orchestras. They've toured with Linkin Park singer Mike Shinoda's side project Fort Minor and worked with Diddy, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin, and Aerosmith. Most significant, they performed at one of President Obama's inaugural balls in 2013.

Miami Beach native Nikki Kidd has been crooning since she was 4 years old. She grew up singing gospel in church, classical in school, and reggae, rock, and R&B at home. Kidd studied studio music and jazz voice at the University of Miami's esteemed Frost School of Music, and her commanding stage presence has led her to share the stage with big-name acts such as Gloria Estefan, Michael Bublé, KC and the Sunshine Band, and even the Florida Grand Opera in its production of Aida. Though she still performs locally with her Nikki Kidd Band, she has a residency at the Mandarin Oriental's Bamboo Bar in Bangkok, Thailand. Her shows are worth that trip around the globe, but she hasn't forgotten her hometown.

Photo by Karli Evans

Visual and performance artist Sleeper's name is a fitting one. He's low key IRL but takes elements from the universal subconscious, mixes them with nightmares and dreams, and molds them into art. Sleeper has studied his craft since third grade and was the valedictorian at the New World School of the Arts College, where he majored in sculpture. His work incorporates performance and mind-blowingly creative costumes he calls "suits," which become fascinating, surreal sculptural artifacts post-performance. Sleeper also works to foster an alternative queer scene in Miami with Gender Blender, which provides a stage for queer artists and musicians; and the LGBTQ+ monthly night Counter Corner, which he established with bearded drag queens Juleisy y Karla. Both events provide queer performers with a safe space to bring their artistic visions to life. Sleeper is also a member of the noise band Squid Squad, makes a mean cocktail at downtown bar the Corner, and sometimes rides an absurdly tall bicycle around downtown. He is always creating or doing something worth watching.

Let DJ Hottpants, AKA Daniel Blair, help you meet the single girl of your dreams at his new film night, ReelHottpants. The bearded DJ and Miami native takes all the guilt out of guilty musical and movie pleasures and turns them into good times — the main ingredient in the recipe for a love match! He's kept South Florida's booties swaying for 15 years and continues to do so with his residency at Gramps' LGBTQ+ party Double Stubble. But recently, the local celeb partnered with the hip Little Haiti improv and comedy venue, Villain Theater, for an interactive movie experience. If you're not the funniest person, have Hottpants do the heavy lifting for you as he presents hilarious commentary on his favorite campy movies and films, such as Valley of the Dolls and Glitter. There's audience participation and the occasional red carpet, too. You may just hit the jackpot by running into a girls' night out brigade and meet your future wifey.

Orchestrated by the A&E District, the monthly Rooftop Unplugged Sessions at the Filling Station Lofts feature curated, live musical performances under the Miami moon and stars. Romantic, right? The rooftop parties are low key, so you can chat with the solo dudes you meet without having to shout over the music. Showcases are early, from 7 to 9 p.m. on select Thursday nights, so odds are the man you meet probably has a job and likes to go out, but not party too hard. Rooftop Unplugged Sessions feature light food, handcrafted cocktails by booze sponsors, and an unparalleled view of the city's skyline. They're also free, so if you strike out, you'll still have enough dough for your next matchmaking opportunity.

Courtesy of Miami New Drama

Set in the garish and raucous world of professional wrestling, Miami New Drama's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is an ethnological fable wrapped in a flashy parable told through the eyes of narrator Macedonio "Mace" Guerra, a lucha libre-masked wrestler portrayed with ardent passion by the magnetic Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Mace is a wrestler's wrestler — a student of the game and a natural heavy who gets relegated to playing the "bad guy" role in every match, partly due to his massive talent for making lesser but more charismatic wrestlers look good in the ring. Gonzalez played Mace with a frenetic energy that could have quickly lost its bearings in a less-talented actor. But Gonzalez walked the fine line between exaggeration and understated ambition. Along the way, the audience witnessed Mace's growth as a character and, in the end, it was Gonzalez's infectious charisma that made crowds root for the bad guy.

Courtesy of GableStage

Does DNA decide not only where we come from, but who and what we're meant to be? That question is the starting point of GableStage's Informed Consent. At the center of the play is a genetic anthropologist named Jillian, played with heart-wrenching intensity by Betsy Graver. In the story, Jillian finds herself in an ethical and personal dilemma: Her mother died at a young age from complications brought on by early-onset Alzheimer's, and Jillian fears not only that the gene has been passed down to her, but that she may have passed it on to her own young daughter. Jillian is so driven to unlock the genetic mystery that could save her and her daughter that she dives into her work without thinking much about its moral consequences, and how it might affect an entire indigenous tribe living in Arizona. Based on a true story, Informed Consent is a complex drama fraught with existential crisis, and Graver was at the center of that hurricane, playing Jillian with a subtle brilliance that echoed a mother's deepest anguish while struggling to preserve her moral dignity.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Color Purple is a heartbreaking period piece based on a harrowing novel about the hardships African-American women faced in the early 20th Century. Audiences know it best from the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Oprah Winfrey, but modern audiences have witnessed Alice Walker's poignant journey through a Tony Award-winning musical, which came to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in February. With a stripped-down set and minimalist lighting, the production made way for its talented cast and accompanying music themes including gospel, jazz, blues, and ragtime. It should be a nearly impossible feat to put music and dance to a gut-wrenching story like The Color Purple, but this cast pulled it off in what was truly a work of musical theater alchemy. And yet, that is the indomitable spirit of the African-American plight: suffering overcome through song. The Color Purple musical nailed it.

Photo by Honest Henry
Even in the world of drag, there can be pressure to conform to a certain visual standard. Miss Toto — a drag goddess by night, competitive bodybuilder by day, and marine researcher to boot — says screw all that. Miss Toto, born William Evans, towers over her subjects at drag events such as A Statute of Gender-Nonconforming Liberty. Her shoulders are huge, her biceps are thick, and if you so much as mouth off at one of the bingo nights she hosts at Gramps, Miss Toto could squish your skull like a ripe melon. But at the same time, she brings a presence, grace, and femininity to her drag performances. Sure, she looks like she could throw a javelin the length of an entire football field, but who’s to say a person that strong can’t be feminine too? But perhaps most important, the thing you realize when you see Miss Toto in action is how much darn work she puts into looking the way she does. Do you know how many hours it takes to contour your pecs and your cheekbones?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®