Best Instagram Feed

Scrolling through Instagram can be depressingly corporate these days. Your favorite meme account is secretly sponsored, the influencer you follow is shilling a teeth-whitening system for the umpteenth time, and your high-school acquaintance wastes no opportunity to tell you about the life-changing multilevel marketing company she's joined. Enter Danny Brito: On Instagram, the Miami-based artist shows his colorful, ultra-relatable art prints, stickers, candles, and pins. But Brito's grid is also filled with pictures of his bright, plant-filled home, adorable pugs, and quirky illustrations. His posts are sweet, comforting, and always earnest — a delightful respite in an otherwise anxiety-inducing feed.

Best Stock Photographer

Looking for a royalty-free photo of a South Florida hot spot? Phillip Pessar is your guy. Whether you're hunting down a picture of the newest Shake Shack, a construction site downtown, or your local Metrorail station, his Flickr feed is almost guaranteed to have it. For more than a decade, the 62-year-old photographer has been documenting the Magic City and its multiple suburbs in all their splendor — but mostly in their mediocrity. Pessar's goal is to document the changing city as it undergoes development and gentrification. Next time you spot a photo of a building in Miami, check the credit — once you know Pessar's name, you'll start seeing his work everywhere.

Best Flack

By its very nature, being a reporter means having adversarial working relationships with at least a handful of government spokespeople and flaky PR reps. But not all flacks are created equal. As a former TV news reporter, Juan Diasgranados — a public affairs manager for Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation — understands the demands of journalists' deadlines and acts accordingly. And he doesn't stop at simply responding to questions. Diasgranados is continually pitching story ideas, such as telling reporters about an effort by correctional officers to bring hot meals to unpaid prison guards during the federal government's shutdown in January. Most important, Diasgranados is friendly, frank, and fast — everything a flack should be.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre
Photo by Diego Pocovi

Going to the theater is cool enough. But going to a theater housed inside a historic venue on Miracle Mile in downtown Coral Gables is even cooler. What was once an art deco movie house is now a three-stage performance center with a main stage, balcony theater, and multipurpose black-box space, perfect for a date night or girls' night — or when you just feel like taking yourself out. At Actors' Playhouse, you'll find classic offerings such as Mama Mia! and Camelot mixed in with contemporary shows like Doubt and Ring of Fire, both showing in 2019. An extra perk of Actors' Playhouse is its embrace of Miami talent, as evidenced by its scheduled 2020 production of ¡Fuácata! or a Latina's Guide to Surviving the Universe, created by locals Elena María García and Stuart Meltzer. Even the kids will feel at home here with shows such as Schoolhouse Rock and Puss in Boots, plus theater and film camps are available during the summer so you can keep the drama out of your home.

Readers' choice: Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

Best Theater Company

In 1989, Area Stage Company (ASC) was born. Thirty years later, the theater company has become a local and regional model for how to put on a damn good show. In addition to presenting locally inspired works and events, ASC isn't afraid to take on the big names. Case in point: Its latest season boasted everything from Disney's The Little Mermaid to The Wizard of Oz to Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. On top of its typically wow-worthy performances, ASC is all about boosting the community's skills. For example, the company regularly hosts group acting, singing, and dance classes and even offers the Inclusion Theatre Project for aspiring student actors aged 5 and up with developmental disabilities. The company will soon move from its Riviera Plaza home to a venue that's yet to be announced. But wherever it lands, you certainly won't want to miss any of the action.

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.

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
Photo by Diego Pocovi

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

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®