By Monica Lynne
A cool breeze whips my pashmina, the one I always take to the theater. It’s a sweet night in Miami, and our stroll is lovely through Miracle Mile, the epicenter of historic Coral Gables’ downtown. Hand in hand on a beautiful evening in the City Beautiful, we approach a brilliant marquee crowning the beloved Actors' Playhouse at Miracle Mile, our destination for a whim of culture. Illuminated above a busy plaza, the marquee shines the latest production in their season roster — Memphis the Musical, a Tony-award winning play that requires skilled choreography and vocal prowess. It’s a monster of a musical to produce, and I’m thrilled to see it played in Miami.
Check-in is smooth. The Actors' Playhouse staff is friendly, and we’re welcomed with smiles and warmth. The lobby is expansive with plenty of seating and concessions to enjoy, and we make conversation with their team at the information booth over coffee before the show. The walls are adorned with a collection of framed memories of past seasons, and it prompts us to learn more about this classic theater.
Before the City of Coral Gables and Actors' Playhouse called Miracle Theater their home, it was a neighborhood movie house operating during the golden age of cinema in 1948 Miami. Actors' Playhouse is an award-winning professional theatre company in South Florida, and one of thirteen major cultural institutions in Miami-Dade County. The company is the largest self-producer of critically acclaimed dramatic and musical theatre for adults and children in South Florida. The private nonprofit organization presents a full season of mainstage and children's programs, extensive educational outreach and community service.
Looking around the lobby before the show, I take in the people around me — a multi-cultural audience of local residents. From elderly couples and young romantics to groups of young students and families, their demographic of patrons is wide. The theater’s programming is developed to appeal to audiences of diverse ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds — and it shows in the bustling lobby. In addition to offering year round theatre productions, they have a full schedule of conservatory classes, summer camps, festivals, educational arts outreach programs for youth, visual art exhibits, play readings, musical theatre labs for new works, and cultural events by the community — it’s a huge list of awesome programming.
The show itself requires serious performance ability and has a heavy subject matter, timely in today’s political climate. Memphis is a musical by David Bryan (music and lyrics) and Joe DiPietro (lyrics and book) loosely based on Memphis disc jockey, Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s. It’s the winner of four Tony Awards® including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Orchestrations. The Tony®-winning original score features music by Bon Jovi's founding member and keyboardist David Bryan and lyrics by Bryan and DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change). As I sip my coffee reflecting on the history of this institution and the weight of this production, I’m thinking, this better be good.
The curtains rise and immediately, I’m drawn into the world they’ve created inside their proscenium. It is a colorful, high-energy spectacular, and I find myself overwhelmed with pride that this type of work is in my city. The choreography by Ron Hutchins is bright and robust. Dance is a massive element in this work; even in gesture, the movement is aesthetic and confidently executed with intention. Vocals are soulful and deep; strong, sustained belts reveal power in the characters. Looking through the program at intermission, I realize the cast is not rookie — they have outstanding professional and Broadway credits; many of the powerhouse performers are also local actors. At the end of the show, the live band playing the score is revealed in a dazzling finale to fill the stage with the entire company. Directed by David Arisco, artistic director of Actors' Playhouse, this smash hit musical plays March 13 through April 7, 2019.
Actors' Playhouse does this show justice, and I exit towards the lobby excited to see the rest of their season. Celebrating their 30th year, the rest of the 2019 season includes the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play, Doubt, in May. Closing the season in July, and playing throughout the summer, they’ll present the hysterical musical comedy, Murder for Two. Next season promises crowd-favorites like Ring of Fire the musical featuring the music of Johnny Cash; Mamma Mia!, featuring the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs; Camelot the musical, the legendary love triangle between King Arthur, Guenevere and Sir Lancelot; Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express; and ¡Fuácata!, a new play by local talent Elena María García and Stuart Meltzer. For more information on their upcoming shows, visit (https://www.actorsplayhouse.org/mainstage.htm).
They provide several ticket discount programs, all aimed at making their shows accessible. Subscribers enjoy the most advantages at the lowest prices with packages starting as low as $185 for all productions per season, including flexible ticket exchange benefits, safe and convenient parking, discounts on classes and workshops, special discounts to Coral Gables’ finest restaurants all year long, and the best seats in the house. Check out their discounts here (https://www.actorsplayhouse.org/discounts.htm).
I leave the theater stimulated and so impressed, satisfied with my investment in entertainment for the night, and for the next year as a new season subscriber. Strolling through the Coral Gables downtown district, my pashmina whips in the crisp, fresh air as we find a sweet spot to sit at the nearby Café at Books and Books. As we sip a complimentary glass of wine (one of the many perks as a new subscribed member of the theater), we dive deep in conversation about the show’s themes and our thoughts of the production. Still gleaming from excitement after this evening’s event, we look forward to the next show at our prized neighborhood theater, The Actors' Playhouse.
Photography: Courtesy of Actors' Playhouse
About the Writer:
Native to the Magic City, Monica Lynne is currently Managing Partner of JLPR, a boutique PR and Marketing firm in Miami, and has presence in Miami's arts & culture community as an actor and influencer. Recent stage credits include Miami Motel Stories by Juggerknot Theatre Co., Scenes From Our Young Marriage, a short film that premiered at the 34th Miami Film Festival & Borscht International Film Festival, and frequent comedy sketch & improv theatre shows at Speak Easy Theater Co. With degrees in Theatre, Dance and Communication Studies, she is a triple-major from Nova Southeastern University. She's a grammar geek, concert junkie, and she suffers from chronic wanderlust.
Click below for upcoming shows:
Adrienne Arsht Center
1300 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, Florida 33132
American Airlines Arena
601 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, Florida 33132
1 Panther Pkwy
Sunrise, Florida 33323
Broward Center for the Performing Arts
201 SW 5th Ave
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33312
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
701 Okeechobee Boulevard
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
1 Seminole Way
Hollywood, FL 33314
Photo Credit: Tomasz Rossa