In the worlds of film and television, certain times of the year bring a blitz of new movies and shows: Christmas movies, summer movies, the fall TV season, the January return of American Idol: Fans know when their choices will be most plentiful.
Theater isn’t quite like that. It has busier times (fall and spring) and slower ones (summer), but not a particular time when the folks who love plays and musicals expect to be inundated with shows. So it may come as a surprise to you — and certainly to the uninformed who complain there’s not much theater here — that this month is insanely busy on South Florida stages. More than a dozen local professional productions are running or soon to open, augmented by that reliable powerhouse Jersey Boys and other touring fare.
Coincidence? Maybe. But this barrage of choices is more evidence of the growth of South Florida’s tri-county theater community and, despite the notable loss of award-winning Florida Stage last June, its staying power.
GableStage’s Joseph Adler, who has his first hit of 2012 with Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Broadway play The Motherf**ker With the Hat, notes that subscriptions at his company and several others are on the rise and says, “That augurs well for the future. It shows that theaters here are a hardy group that can survive a downward economy. Theaters are not just surviving but are starting to thrive.… It wasn’t that way last January.”
To help you sort through this month’s theater bounty, here’s a show-by-show look at much of what’s onstage.
• GableStage in Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel has the first bonafide smash of 2012 in The Motherf**ker With the Hat, a blistering comedy about a nervously sober ex-con trying to put his life back together. Five fabulous performances, Adler’s smart direction and tight pacing, and a funny yet touching script make Mother must-see theater. It’s at GableStage through Feb. 5. Call 305-445-1119 or visit www.gablestage.org.
• Real-life mother Laura Turnbull and daughter Arielle Hoffman play an emotionally brutalizing woman and her brainy kid in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ fine revival of Paul Zindel’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Skye Coyne plays the other damaged daughter in the play about how hope can bloom amid chaos. Marigolds is at Dramaworks in West Palm Beach through Jan. 29. Call 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
• The best of the jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys, brings the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons back to the stage of Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The show keeps coming back (and generally selling out) for a reason: It’s great. It will be at the Broward Center through Jan. 29. Call 954-462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org.
• Infinite Abyss is offering a twisted take on a familiar fairy-tale, Erynn Dalton and Jeffrey D. Holmes’ Snow White Trash, through Jan. 28 at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage. Though the show has its moments (especially early on), it could use a much more coherent plot line. Call 954-678-1496 or visit www.infinite-abyss.com.
• Broward’s Tamarac Theatre of Performing Arts has taken on a big challenge in Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning The Producers, which runs through Jan. 29. The wild musical about a pair of con-man producers would tax many a larger company. Call 954-726-7898 or visit www.ttopa.org.
Opening this week
• The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a play about the wild world of pro wrestling, becomes an allegory about America and its place in the world. Kristoffer Diaz’s play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, runs at Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre Company through Feb. 12 — and yes, you’ll see real-live wrestling. Call 561-241-7432 or visit www.caldwelltheatre.com.
• Arthur Whitelaw, the man behind Snoopy! The Musical on Broadway, is again directing his show, this time at Area Stage in Coral Gables. Area, one of the region’s pioneering theater companies, is returning to its professional roots with this production, which runs from Saturday through Jan. 29. Call 305-666-2078 or visit www.areastagecompany.com.
• Davie’s Promethean Theatre is doing Marc Camoletti’s farce Boeing Boeing, which earned a 2008 Tony Award. The story of a slick Parisian whose woman-juggling scheme unravels when all three of his “fiancées” wind up in his apartment at the same time runs through Jan. 29. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.theprometheantheatre.org.
• The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is featuring former Miss America Kate Shindle as Sally Bowles in an ambitious production of Cabaret. Broadway veteran BT McNicholl directs the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical classic, utilizing the actors-as-orchestra concept to an even greater degree than the hugely popular 1998 Broadway revival. Come to Maltz’s Cabaret in Jupiter through Jan. 29. Call 561-575-2223 or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.
• The season’s most hotly anticipated musical, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, previews Wednesday-Thursday, then opens Jan. 20 for a run through Feb. 12 at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. The exquisite, harrowing show follows a mother with bipolar disorder as she and her family try to find a way back to “normal.” Call 305-444-9293 or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.
• The Off-Broadway hit Love, Loss and What I Wore examines women’s lives through their clothing choices past and present. The play features changing casts of celebrity performers, and for its Wednesday through Jan. 22 run at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse, the actresses include M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit and Sonia Manzao, aka Maria from Sesame Street. Call 954-462-0222 or visit www.parkerplayhouse.com.
• Ten years after he created his riveting solo show NE 2nd Avenue, Teo Castellanos revisits his award-winning, eight-character exploration of life along the Miami thoroughfare. The actor-playwright appears in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts from Thursday through Jan. 21. Call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org.
• The musical Urinetown has a cringe-worthy title, but the funny, Tony Award-winning parable is actually one terrific piece of theater. You can catch it at West Boca Raton’s Slow Burn Theatre Jan. 20-29. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.slowburntheatre.com.
• A new company comes to life when Parade Productions presents Donald Margulies’ Brooklyn Boy Jan. 26-Feb. 12. Avi Hoffman stars as a novelist who finds success and personal problems sometimes go hand-in-hand. The show goes on at Boca Raton’s Studio at Mizner Park. Call 561-291-9678
or visit www.paradeproductions.org.
• At month’s end, New Theatre opens the second production in its new home at Miami’s Roxy Performing Arts Center. Robert Caisley’s world premiere play Winter, running Jan. 27-Feb. 12, is about a feud between fraternal twins and their late mother’s young assistant. Call 305-443-5909 or visit www.new-theatre.org.