White Guy on the Bus
George Schiavone
White Guy on the Bus

Theater director Joseph Adler famously keeps very tight control over the artistic substance of GableStage. Yet Adler recently entrusted two productions — The Children and White Guy on the Bus — to one of the busiest freelance directors in the region: Michael Leeds. Adler was well rewarded. Leeds delivered some of the most effective and thought-provoking work of the past 12 months in these tales of complex relationships set against a backdrop of social issues such as racism and environmental apocalypse. Leeds is almost never at rest in South Florida, where he works as a playwright, teacher, and choreographer, as well as associate artistic director at the LGBTQ-centric Island City Stage. Theater playbills across the nation have heralded his work, including writing and directing the Broadway musical Swinging on a Star, which was nominated for a Tony Award in 1996. Several directors have a niche in which they are especially skilled, but Leeds' versatility encompasses trenchant drama, silly comedy, musical revues, and just about anything else. He's also a quietly integrated part of the theatrical community, often attending other theaters' productions as much to give support as to spot new talent to cast. His staging is so skilled it can be invisible, but his strength is coaching personal-best-quality performances from his actors whether neophytes or veterans.

Many audience members at the Carbonell Awards this year had not seen Slow Burn Theatre's The Bridges of Madison County the previous winter. So when Anna Lise Jensen agreed to perform the musical's nearly six-minute opening number, the supportive but seen-it-all crowd of old pros was mesmerized into surprised silence by her plaintive, heart-rending narrative of an Italian immigrant making a new life in Iowa. It wasn't the first time. The newcomer to South Florida has repeatedly impressed audiences in the region, from her role as a yearning housewife in Bridges, to the lesbian looking back on her self-discovery of her sexuality in Zoetic Stage's Fun Home, to playing the accordion and singing in Actors' Playhouse's Once, to horsing around in the same company's One Man Two Guvnors. She's hard to miss because of her statuesque presence, wide smile, red hair, and flashing blue eyes, but Jensen remains unforgettable in her ability to rip emotions from her guts and channel them through a liquid voice that ranges from operatic to sensual. Her range will be on full display in her role as Aldonza in MNM Theatre Company's Man of La Mancha this September.

Clay Cartland (right) in Gloria.
George Schiavone
Clay Cartland (right) in Gloria.

Critics have spent a decade trying to accurately describe what Clay Cartland does. He is renowned for his endlessly inventive comic chops, a droll delivery, and a nimble, expressive physicality reminiscent of the early work of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. But he reminded audiences last season of his abilities as a straight dramatic actor in GableStage's Gloria. Cartland begins the first act as a party boy, the lord of the office who loves holding court, soaking up the gossip, and engaging in poisonous talk. His character thrives as the center of attention but is quietly unhappy with himself. In the second act, Cartland expertly transitions into a man clearly broken, who has lost his sense of self and might even be aware that any dreams and hopes he once had will never be realized. In a single year, Cartland crooned the Sinatra songbook with a straight face, played the young hero in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, and took on the role of the preening, over-the-top megastar in Slow Burn Theatre's Rock of Ages. He is more than willing to be an anonymous member of the ensemble, but something about his charisma radiates so brightly that, like Cassie in A Chorus Line, that Cartland cannot help but be noticed.

Best Play
Alberto Romeu

Smoky halls, underground clubs, cultural revolution, and music that stirs the soul and curls the spine? Yes, you get all of that and more in the deliciously absorbing Tony Award-winning musical Memphis. Originally on Broadway from 2009 through 2012, it came to Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in 2019, taking audiences out of the smarmy tropics and into 1950s Tennessee. Directed by David Arisco, Memphis is inspired by real-life DJ Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black artists on the radio. Onstage, the story follows Huey Calhoun (a wannabe DJ who loves the music he hears in black clubs), who one day meets Felicia, a beautiful and talented black singer, and — you guessed it — he falls hard. They try to build their careers and lives together, but society isn't having it. Despite the fact that it's 2019, listening to one of the show's highlights, "Change Don't Come Easy," strikes as much of a chord now as it might have during the civil rights movement.

Best Dance Company
Courtesy of Karen Peterson

A lot of people talk the talk, but Karen Peterson & Dancers walks the walk as a full-time dance organization that features choreography performed by dancers with and without disabilities. Peterson — KPD's founder, president, and artistic director — didn't start out as an activist per se, but she always believed that all individuals should have the right to physically express themselves and the opportunity to train on a professional level. By providing inclusive and forward-thinking performances, workshops, and classes, Peterson made her philosophy a reality for many in our community. In the process, KPD has challenged its audiences to think about what it is that defines a dancer.

Bill Cosford Cinema
Photo by Conan O'Brien

As Miami's landscape of independent theaters has expanded, the stereotype of the arthouse film fan has shifted: Now, just about anyone you meet in this town could be a voracious viewer of foreign films or eagerly anticipating the arrival of the latest Sundance films to local screens or, at the very least, has watched a movie in a building without the words "AMC" or "Regal" glowing above the entrance. But don't count out the film students who've been the driving force behind arthouse theaters since, well, arthouse theaters were a thing. Bill Cosford Cinema is here to bring the independent, foreign, and documentary features they crave. Located at the University of Miami, the Cosford serves the Godards of tomorrow with a diverse lineup of crowd pleasers such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, critics' picks like Ramen Shop, and special screenings of classics such as Silence of the Lambs. But this isn't just a place for students; the Cosford also hosts screenings during the Miami Film Festival and other special events that draw moviegoers of all ages and walks of life.

Readers' choice: O Cinema Miami Beach

Best Film Director
Stian Roenning

We'll freely admit this category is entirely rigged and corrupt. Billy Corben — already the best-known-and-decorated documentarian in Miami — doesn't deserve any more awards or love from New Times specifically. But last year he made a movie that is in many ways about this publication, so we'd be stupid not to toot our own horn here. At the tail end of 2018, Corben — along with his partners Alfred Spellman and David Cypkin — debuted Screwball, a comedy/documentary recounting the Biogenesis steroid saga, in which whistleblower and tanning-booth enthusiast Porter Fischer leaked a bunch of records to New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink showing that major baseball stars, including Alex Rodriguez, were doing steroids. We promise we're not lying here — the movie is honestly really, really good. Corben and company reenacted huge portions of the story using child actors. In addition to being Corben's most top-to-bottom entertaining movie, it also features New Times faces a lot.

Best Miami Documentary
Greenwich Entertainment

No filmmaker tells Miami's story quite like Billy Corben. And the Biogenesis scandal is so very Miami. With a cast of characters including an obsessive tanner with a vindictive streak and a fake doctor who linked up with a drug dealer to hawk steroids, plus some of the biggest names in baseball, Screwball tells the surreal story of how hurt feelings and a $4,000 debt blew up into the greatest scandal in modern sports history. It's the kind of thing that's so absurd it would be hard to make up if it weren't true, and Corben leans into that absurdity by employing child actors as stand-ins for A-Rod, Tony Bosch, and Porter Fischer. At one point, a baby Pitbull even shows up. Then-New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink, who broke the massive story in 2013, heavily features in the flick and has a pintsize doppelgänger of his own. But we'd name Screwball the best documentary of the year even if it weren't for tiny Tim. It's a hilarious take on one of those tales that makes people roll their eyes and say, "Only in Miami."

Best Local Girl Gone Bad
Jessica Lipscomb

Former Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes had a history of screwing up elections long before 2018. Over her 14 years in office, ballots went missing by the thousands. Sometimes they showed up in voters' mailboxes missing constitutional amendments; other times they didn't show up at all. Then there was the time Snipes illegally ordered the destruction of a bunch of ballots from the 2016 election. But 2018 took things to a whole new level of chaos. For starters, Broward's ballots were so poorly designed that many voters completely skipped the crucial Senate race. Then, amid a highly contested recount, Snipes revealed her office had misplaced thousands of ballots. The office missed a recount deadline — whoops! — and Broward turned into a national laughingstock prompting cries of election-rigging by President Donald Trump and daily protests outside the elections office by the likes of the Proud Boys. With Snipes now out of office, here's hoping Broward gets its act together in 2020 — for once.

Best Local Boy Gone Bad
U.S. Department of Justice

Before Matt Whitaker became acting attorney general of the United States, he was a federal prosecutor in Iowa who went on to sit on the board of a Miami Beach scam company. The scheme — a firm called World Patent Marketing — took money from gullible inventors and, in return, promised to help people get their inventions on store shelves. Instead, World Patent Marketing just took the money. The Federal Trade Commission forced the company to shut down in 2017, but not before Whitaker himself threatened whistleblowers via email. As part of the scheme, World Patent Marketing hawked some unbelievably dumb ideas, including a time-travel company, a firm that sold Bigfoot dolls, and a toilet designed so that well-endowed men don't dunk their gigantic dongs in dirty water.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®