South Florida theater season is heating up

Theater in South Florida is a year-round thing, but it certainly does ebb and flow — and boy is it flowing in late January. Once locals and snowbirds have come back from their holiday travels, companies deluge theater fans with winter openings, from big musicals to pithy plays.

This week and next bring the birth of a new company, four large-scale musicals, plays centered on black teens and an accomplished black woman, and a gay play that grows ever more surreal.

The new offerings join several already-running South Florida productions: La Cage aux Folles at Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre, Fully Committed at the Broward Center, Mad Cat’s The Star-Spangled Girl at Miami Theater Center’s SandBox, The Wiz at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre and the award-winning I and You at Delray Beach’s Theatre at Arts Garage. Palm Beach Dramaworks adds Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Boca Raton’s Parade Productions opens Undo next week.

Here’s what’s new on the local theater scene.

Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine: Into the Woods is a not-so-happily-ever-after musical that’s hot at the moment thanks to the still-in-theaters Disney film version. The brother-sister team of J.J. and Natalie Caruncho are launching their new company, DreamCatcher Theatre, at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater this week with the full, original show — something that should satisfy the purists who groused about dropped characters, eliminated music and a death that didn’t happen.

Truth is, the Carunchos started working on their debut show long before they had an inkling that the movie would be coming out in 2014. And they had a twist in mind: Broadway actor Tituss Burgess, known for his high tenor pipes, will be starring as the Witch — Rapunzel’s complicated mother. He’s ready.

“I’m a walking contradiction on so many levels. I’m gay, black and a Christian,” Burgess says. “It’s not a drag role. We are absolutely honoring what Sondheim wanted. You’ll see my beautiful shaved bald head and a touch of lipstick after my transformation…What a lovely way to show [people who become] families by choice.”

DreamCatcher Theatre production in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 15; $50; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.

Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney: GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler has been a champion of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s work in South Florida, presenting the acclaimed Miami-raised playwright’s The Brothers Size, his take on Hamlet and the ambitious co-production (with the Royal Shakespeare Company and New York’s Public Theater) of McCraney’s set-in-Haiti Antony and Cleopatra. But with the opening of Choir Boy, Adler is experiencing a first: He, not McCraney, is directing.

The play, produced in London, Off-Broadway and at several major regional theaters, focuses on the students and the a capella choir at an elite black prep school — and on the roiling rhythms of adolescence, sexual orientation, bullying and more.

“I think Choir Boy is Tarell’s most accessible work,” says Adler. Hymns, spirituals and secular music run through the play, and Adler adds: “He uses a capella choir music in an incredibly effective manner, to create mood and to comment on what’s taking place.”

GableStage production at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; opens 8 p.m. Saturday; performances 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday (no evening show Jan. 25), through Feb. 22; $40-$55; 305-445-1119 or www.gablestage.org.

Bonnie & Clyde by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchell: Young love and crime have been back in the news of late, with a pair of no-longer-on-the-lam Kentucky teens dubbed a “modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.” The Depression-era killer couple was the subject of Arthur Penn’s stylish 1967 movie, and in 2011 a musical about the duo had a short run on Broadway, after a tuneup engagement at Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Broadway shows with a checkered record don’t stop Slow Burn Theatre’s Patrick Fitzwater and Matthew Korinko from taking them on, though. Working in New York on and off when Bonnie & Clyde was running, Fitzwater caught it and loved it.

“I saw how the audience took to the show. That place was electric. I told Matthew, ‘This is an us show. It deserves to be seen,’” Fitzwater says.

The company, which will make its home at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale next season, will take its Bonnie (Jessica Brooke Peterson) and Clyde (Bruno Faria) to Aventura after the Boca Raton run ends.

Slow Burn Theatre production at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater, 12811 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, through Feb. 8 (moves to Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 118th St., Aventura, Feb. 12-14); 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; $25-$40 ($40 and $45 Aventura); 866-811-4111 or www.slowburntheatre.org (877-311-7469 or www.aventuracenter.org).

The Gift Horse by Lydia R. Diamond: Diamond is best known for her 2011 Broadway family drama Stick Fly, but the talented writer has been demonstrating her gifts for years. The Gift Horse from 2002 focuses on Ruth, a black woman traveling back and forth through her life, contemplating her abusive father, her gay college roommate, romance, marriage and motherhood.

Carey Brianna Hart, long a mainstay of M Ensemble (the region’s oldest still-operating professional theater company), will play Ruth in the troupe’s production at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. Violinist-actor Janice Miller begins the piece, and her story is also woven into its fabric. Othon Cardell, Andy Barbose and M Ensemble veteran André L. Gainey are also in the cast.

Hart says, “This play highlights unconventional love stories. Ruth is a very complex woman who falls in love with a psychologist; her best friend is also a psychologist, and her father was a psychiatrist. So she’s a very in-her-head sort of individual.”

M Ensemble production at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay; 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 8; $25 ($20 seniors and students); 786-573-5300 or www.smdcac.org.

Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb, based on the book by Christopher Isherwood and play by John Van Druten: Cabaret was always a sexy musical, even in its original 1966 incarnation, but the show’s 1998 Sam Mendes-directed version brought the gritty sensuality, lust and growing Nazi danger of 1929 Berlin to the forefront.

Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs is taking on the large-scale challenge of Cabaret, with director Dan Kelley assembling an alluring cast for a musical he has long wanted to direct. Katherine Amadeo, a Carbonell Award-nominated performer known for her work in stage classics and edgy plays (and for being artistic director-cofounder of The Naked Stage), will play the vibrant, troubled chanteuse Sally Bowles.

“She is a beautifully tragic and complex character. When we first meet Sally, we see her as an over-the-top, deliciously eccentric good-time girl, but as the show progresses, it becomes clear that her behavior is all just a façade and, at her core, she is a deeply insecure and fragile child,” Amadeo says. “I can already say that singing the show’s title song is one of the most artistically fulfilling moments of my career. I feel like I’m walking around in a dream.”

Stage Door Theatre production, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, through March 15; $38-$42; 954-344-7765 or www.stagedoortheatre.com.

Ragtime by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally: David Arisco, the artistic director at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, has never shied away from large-scale musical challenges. But Ragtime, based on E.L. Doctorow’s sweeping novel about white, black and Jewish New Yorkers whose lives intersect at the start of the 20th century, is the company’s largest show to date. The production features a cast of 37 adult actors and four kids, nearly 300 costumes and a story about racial and ethnic conflict that feels eerily, sadly fresh.

“This illustrates how far we’ve come but how much we haven’t yet fixed,” Arisco says. “The audience knows it’s seeing a period piece, but it will realize how much there is still to do.”

Showcasing the talents of numerous Carbonell Award winners and nominees, Ragtime (which begins previews Wednesday) features Melissa Minyard as Mother, Mark Sanders as Father and Dominique Scott as Younger Brother; Don Seward as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Sarah Nicole Batts as his beloved Sarah, and Tally Sessions as the Jewish immigrant Tateh.

Actors’ Playhouse production at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday (additional 2 p.m. matinee Feb. 4); previews Wednesday-Thursday, runs Jan. 30-Feb. 22; $59 Friday-Saturday, $52 other shows ($37 previews); 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.


Octopus by Steve Yockey: Steve Yockey’s 2008 play seems a natural for Fort Lauderdale’s Island City Stage, which focuses on gay-themed work and has quickly built a reputation for its way with serious plays (last season’s The Timekeepers dominated the Carbonell Awards) and comedies (Have I Got a Girl for You and POZ). But Octopus, which opens next week and explores what happens after a younger gay couple decides to try group sex with an older one, is far more challenging and surreal than it seems at first.

Artistic director Andy Rogow says of the play, “I chose to produce Octopus because it was such a physical and artistic challenge…The special effects necessary and the surrealism of the piece were scary. I’m fascinated by Steve Yockey’s imagery and prose and how water, which so often symbolizes life, in this play portends danger and how one little ‘leak’ in our lives can cause a flood of consequences.”

Island City Stage production at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday; previews Thursday and Jan. 30, runs Jan. 31-March 1; $30; 954-519-2533 or www.islandcitystage.com.

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