In Review: New Production of Webbers ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Casts Spell at Arsht

This week our city is once again hosting Andrew Lloyd Weber’s famous musical, The Phantom of the Opera. Since it’s opening in 1986 there have been numerous productions, the most recent fashioned by director Laurence Conor (Miss Saigon, The King and I, Les Miserables—the list goes on) and producers Cameron Mackintosh, The Really Useful Theatre Company, and NETworks Presentations. This new production of Phantom is memorable as the grandest of productions yet, with a cast and orchestra of 52 that inspire wonder, while honoring the magic of the original show.   Continue reading In Review: New Production of Webbers ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Casts Spell at Arsht

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(Mostly) Jazz swings at the Betsy on SoBe: Art Basel and Beyond

Here at the Miami Arts Review we’ve grown very fond of the Betsy Hotel for its dedication to injecting arts and culture into public space. As Art Basel returned to the city for its 2015 winter run, South Beach’s dining and entertainment scene featured a plethora of venues to enjoy live music, but few are so committed to ensuring the quality of the Betsy Hotel’s (Mostly) Jazz live music series. Twice weekly, and more frequently during Art Basel, hotel guests, diners at BLT Steak, and the savvy music aficionado are privy to an array of world-class musicians presenting in the lobby’s performance space. Continue reading (Mostly) Jazz swings at the Betsy on SoBe: Art Basel and Beyond

Salon ‘Rebuilding the City: AKA Black Lives Matter’ Raises Powerful Conversation

In the midst of Art Basel’s hectic run of cultural events this past week, the Betsy Hotel in South Beach hosted a thought-provoking salon on Thursday afternoon, deftly touching on the intersection of art and one of the more sensitive social issues of our time.

The salon accompanied the exhibition Rebuilding the City: AKA Black Lives Matter, a creation of Baltimore’s Morgan University Visual Arts Department by the Black Lives Matter Inside Out Group Action Initiative. Organized in 2012 as a visual response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which formed following the murder of Trayvon Martin, it provokes a very timely conversation about what it means to be human. Continue reading Salon ‘Rebuilding the City: AKA Black Lives Matter’ Raises Powerful Conversation

Pugilists of the pen face-off at Miami’s 9th Literary Death Match

Last evening our very own Vice City played host to it’s 9th edition of Literary Death Match, an international reading-series-turned-game-show produced just in time for the Miami Book Fair International. Nestled in the well-appointed lobby of the Standard Hotel & Spa, the Literary Death Match episode interrupted a private authors’ party, playing expertly to its close-quartered audience.

Combining literature and performance in a comically competitive event, creator and host Adrian Todd Zuniga is a dizzying compère. The gathering of writers and literary fans, and the occasional wandering hotel guest trying to return to a room, pits four authors against each other in a competitive reading of original works, each under a seven minute time constraint. Despite the suggestively violent title of the series, the environment was warm and humorous. Rounds one and two featured award-winning journalist and author of A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian, Colin Channer, author of the poetry collection Providential and best-selling novel Waiting in Vain, Sara Benincasa, author of DC Trip, and Bob Morris, best known for his works Crispin the Terrible and  Assisted Loving. During an LDM match, the real challenge for these authors is performing a reading live. The work having already been written, they must woo the audience, emote, breathe life into words they’ve crafted with both care and wit. They perform with the best comedic timing and natural delivery they can muster and adjust to the many variables of a live audience (laughter, people moving around from room to room, a small dog run amuck through the lobby, etc.). All is taken into consideration by the judges after each performance.

The panel of judges featured an equally exciting crew of established authors: Richard Price, author of The Whites, Clockers, Lush Life and contributing screenwriter to the critically-acclaimed television series The Wire; Joy-Ann Reid, national MSNBC correspondent and author of Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide; Eric Bogosian, actor, monologist and playwright, and author of Operation Nemesis; and Chip Kidd, art director, book designer, and author of Only What’s Necessary. They provided commentary after each round, sometimes sage, sometimes profane, always  constructive and humorous. They were honest and friendly, keeping the competitive environment light at all times.

At the risk of mythologizing an already larger-than-life personality, the whole collaboration couldn’t pull off such success without the theatrics of Mr. Zuniga. Tailored and thin, and both bombastic and intellectual, Mr. Zuniga presides over all with a fast-talking panache reminiscent of variety show hosts of an earlier era; the effect, while vaudevillian, is apropo, for how else does one make static written word attention-grabbing in a live performance format? Quoting Dorothy Parker and wielding his microphone like a cocktail, Zuniga keeps it fast-paced enough to stay interesting, and on track when writers push their time-limits.

Once two finalists had been chosen (Benincasa and Channer) the show wrapped with a ridiculous tiebreaker: a Literary Spelling Bee finale in which the two had to spell complicated author names for a shot at the title as winner (here Zuniga waived home made cardstock signs with the correct spellings over their heads for the audience). These moments of comedy and borderline absurdity tied the Literary Death Match together and contribute to its steady growth in popularity. To date, LDM has been held in 60 cities all over the world, from Los Angeles to Beijing, and anyone fortunate enough to catch one will appreciate the opportunity to hear this generation’s great writers perform their own works at the expense of a  few laughs.
The next Literary Death Match will be held Dec. 4 in Bucharest, Romania.
Visit www.literarydeathmatch.com for more information on the series, podcasts, and authors featured in Miami’s episode.

photograph republished from website

Harmony in South Beach: The Betsy A Cappella Festival Closes on a High Note

Lucky passers-by strolling along Lincoln Road in South Beach Saturday evening found themselves privy to lush blends of song emanating from the open doors of the Miami Beach Community Church. The sanctuary was packed to capacity and resonated with an energy as electric as a small pop show. The free concert, held by the 2015 The Betsy A Cappella Festival (TBAF), served as a final showcase to celebrate the collegiate and professional groups and instructors who all gathered for the weekend’s festivities. In its second year, the festival brings 150 high school singers from around the country to participate in workshops and vocal intensives with professionals from the a cappella industry. Continue reading Harmony in South Beach: The Betsy A Cappella Festival Closes on a High Note

The Betsy A Cappella Festival Kicks off its Second Year at the Adrienne Arsht Center

There’s an old Latin proverb, Vox Populi, Vox Dei: ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’.

Being witness to a gathering of 150 voices raised in song together, and those the voices of young people, was indeed a divine experience. The Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center opened its doors early on an otherwise quiet Friday morning to fill the cavernous space with music for the 2015 The Betsy A Cappella Festival. 150 high schoolers traveling from as far as Baltimore, MD, gathered for the experience, where the most experienced in their industry were brought to them for series of masterclasses and vocal intensives on the emerging collegiate a cappella genre.

The Betsy Hotel’s Vice President of Marketing, Philanthropy, and Programs Deborah Briggs is the alchemist who wove community and the arts together yet again, and she and Andrew Goldberg, Vice President of Marketing at the Arsht Center, gave a warm welcome to kick-off the festival.

In the annual event, high school participants need not be serious a cappella singers already, but they travel out of an interest to study the craft and tools necessary to reproduce arrangements and blends back home or later in musical careers. The first workshop was led by Shams Ahmed, an accomplished arranger and musical director, who brought a small female ensemble, the Park School Eightnotes, as vocal guinea pigs. His presentation provided a no-nonsense guide into the necessity of technique and discipline in order to sing a capella healthfully. He then had the larger group warm up as well, showing them how physical gesture can free the sound, and a smile can help the voice focus “like a laser,” to carry farther with less effort. His enthusiasm reverberated among the students, who, reserved at first, began to loosen up and enjoy themselves. Personalities started to materialize and singing grew in confidence and passion, matching Ahmed’s stride.

For the second session, the students were split into groups to work with established a cappella professionals, each of whom could impart some of their own experience. In one of the groups, Lauren France and Holly Kitching, members of the professional group VXN, discussed the strategies and challenges to starting an a cappella group, and how their a cappella careers draw parallels and leave impacts on other endeavors they pursue outside of their musical lives.

In a another presentation, the festival’s scholastic producer Jesse Louise Mark gave a session on arranging a new piece for a cappella ensemble. She used John Legend’s single ‘All of Me’ to demonstrate the breakdown of a piece into parts by identifying meter, transcribing a bass line, arranging three-part harmony, and giving proper attention to the voicing of the parts. During a culminating run of the song, she pulled a volunteer to sing the melody, while the ensemble tuned together, gently oscillating between soft “ooo’s” and open “ah” vowels to produce a warm overtone ring. As the verses looped, the students got to practice the interpolation of leading tones and rhythmic subdivision they’d just workshopped. The session finished with a discussion on the value of music theory in a cappella and the greater music industry.

One of the high points for the weekend’s event was a session led by singer-songwriter India Carney, a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and YoungArts Winner in Voice & Theater, who pivoted the conversation into a more soul-searching aspect of a singing career. Carney covered the value of breathe and posture, but dug deeper into the role of the singer as storyteller, posing questions about finding your own signature and connecting with the audience. She also pulled a volunteer to the front, having her sing Adele’s hit ‘Someone Like You,’ to demonstrate how breathe can unleash more of the instrument, coloring a piece with emotional range. The demonstration was transformative. The student singer stood taller, sang warmly, and overcame her initial shivers of stage fright with India by her side. The rest of the students were equally mesmerized and supportive, and it became immediately evident how powerful the festival was for these participants.

Saturday morning the sessions continued with a “Mix & Match” master class that broke students down into groups of strangers to sing together for the first time, each group under the direction of a different industry professional, including Vocal Coach and arranger for NBC’s The Sing Off, and Grammy Award-winning arranger Ben Bram of Pentatonix. The exercise best imparts the sense of community choral singing fosters, as young people who never met before raised their voices in harmony to create an experience larger than the individual. This is the first and most relevant achievement of a cappella as a genre, but the master classes made it quite apparent that, even beyond that collaborative power, musical expression through singing touches each of these students individually as well, as they find their own voices and sense of self along the way.

The 2015 Betsy A Cappella Festival ran for two days from Oct. 23-24, and culminated in a final free performance at the Miami Beach Community Church Saturday evening at 7:30 pm. The event was made possible by the Betsy Hotel’s arts programming, and occurs annually. For more information, go to http://www.thebetsyacappella.com

Gramp’s in Wynwood Loves the Everglades – 8th Annual Everglades Awareness Benefit Concert

This past Saturday, the already-popular Gramp’s transformed into the place to be in Miami for both music and activism. The funky Wynwood bar known for karaoke and 80’s power hour dance parties, played host to a massive, 11-hour Everglades Awareness Benefit, featuring some of Miami’s biggest bands and over 18 short talks by local politicians, environmental activist groups, and Floridian non-profits.

Ploppy Palace Productions and Love the Everglades, the movers and shakers behind the Benefit, utilized Gramp’s three different performances spaces to host the volume of events, featuring headlining acts and speakers on its Outside Stage (complete with dance floor, et al), a lineup of performers on its smaller “Inside Stage” in the back barroom, and its main entrance as a performance space for acoustic acts, DJ’s, and speakers. At any given point in time, from 4 pm Saturday to 3 am Sunday morning, one could weave through the venue and focus in on their pick of musical style or political discourse. Gramp’s is an interesting choice for such a large event, given its size – but the close quarters worked to the Benefit’s advantage, as participants were forced to brush elbows. The effect cultivated an overall “party” environment that celebrated the art and music on display as much as it illuminated the plight of the Florida Everglades and the many efforts by present organizations to restore and preserve them.

The event kicked off with speeches from the Love the Everglades movement, then ran a tight schedule through the afternoon. Highlights of the speakers on the main stage included an appearance by Mayor Phillip Stoddard of the City of South Miami and Rep. David Richardson of the Florida House of Representatives, and Laura Reynold, Executive Director of the Tropical Audubon Society. In true Miami fashion, the lengthening of the shadows did little to turn numbers away: Mike Antheil, the Executive Director of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, wasn’t slated until after 11 pm.

Musical highlights included Magic City Hippies (until recently known as the Robby Hunter Band), an indie-funk staple that has captured an infectious throw-back sound, and always draws a regular crowd. Acoustic act from Hollywood, Fl, Brendan O’Hara, also managed to still the inside room with a set of originals, relying upon looping equipment and the wonders of modern technology to fully produce his songs as he performed. A simple midi keyboard, guitar and pedals, and sparse auxiliary percussion transformed into multi-tracked indie-pop replete with harmonies and modern dance rhythms. The headliners, Spam All-Stars and Suenalo, weren’t slated until later in the evening, with Spam All-Stars on at 11:30 pm-12:20 am, and Suenalo on at 1 am. Almost the entirety of the outdoor space was packed with audience members dancing, spilling off the dance floor into side spaces where local artists and artisans had set up shop.

The Benefit comes at a time when the Florida Everglades have been front and center in state policy dialogue. A source of water for over 20 million Americans and home to 20 different species on the Endangered Animal List, the Everglades have been the victim of much state legislative controversy. Though an “Land and Water Amendment 1”  to the state’s constitution received 75% approval of voters in 2014, partitioning off $700 million for the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund over the next 20 years, only $109 million was approved by Florida Legislation and Gov. Rick Scott for Land acquisition and Everglades Restoration. A number of wildlife groups have filed a lawsuit charging the Legislature with violating the State’s constitution.

Anyone who missed this event should absolutely keep a look out for follow up performances by the many artists who performed and next year’s Benefit. In addition to Ploppy Place Productions, promotional materials listed The Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, Dr. Michael Lemus and VolunteerCleanup.org as sponsors as well.

Contributions can be made at:  www.gofundme.com/LoveTheEverglades

Miami Summer Music Festival triumphs at New World Center

Following the success of the Miami Summer Music Festival’s adorable production of Hansel and Gretel last weekend (and we mean adorable – see our previous post about the instrument petting-zoo), we decided to check out the festival’s concert at the New World Center this past Saturday, July 25th. The New World Gala concert offers a “best of,” from the festival, showcasing singers from the Opera Institute and competition winners from the Composition, Piano, and Conducting Institutes respectively, and closing with a major orchestral work.

‘Tour de Force’ would be a more apt descriptor for the concert than ‘gala.’ Under the baton of its founder and artistic director, Maestro Michael Rossi, the evening opened with a set of zarzuela, or Spanish operetta pieces, which resonated with the audience, many of whom could be heard humming along to familiar melodies. Most notable of these was a spirited rendition of the old standard “Granada,” by Lara, shared between three tenors in a duel for the most show-stopping high notes (Jose Mangelós won this reviewer’s vote, charming the audience with a brilliance in his timbre and disarming charisma).

The iconic first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor (Op. 16) was so elegantly executed by 18 year-old Isabella Ma that the audience seemed compelled to erupt into applause afterward, breaking traditional conventions to hold ovation for after the entire work. Standouts from the opera scenes were Israeli mezzo-soprano Maya Gour as a richly voiced Rosina with lightning accuracy in her coloratura, and baritone Anthony Potts for his comedic timing as Figaro in the trio, “Ah! Quel colpo inaspettato… Zitti, zitti, piano, piano,” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Soprano Allison Lonstein also made an impression as the tragically lovely Mimi in “Donde lieta usci,” and the subsequent quartet from La Boheme, her dark tone ever present and plaintive over the doubling of Puccini’s lush orchestration. Here Rossi led the orchestra with skillful navigation of the work’s wide dynamic range, demonstrating clear deference for the stylistic nuance of the Italian composer.

The MSMF orchestra is comprised of students, pre-professionals, and emerging artists from over 20 different countries. Their reading of Stravinsky’s enormous instigation Rite of Spring, however, was above and beyond for a young orchestra. One would think the most compelling feature of the Miami Summer Music Festival is that it provides opportunities for young musicians to cut their teeth in the professional world – but rather, the Festival’s true gift is the energy in the music it provides its community. Young performers commit to their craft with an enthusiasm rarely exhibited by professional orchestras, and Stravinsky’s ballet was no exception. The hushed introduction of the opening act still simmered in anticipation of the explosive Augurs of Spring to follow, where the percussion ensemble stole the show, following Rossi’s lead with precision and flourish. The dramatic second act, the Sacrifice, reprised their exuberance in full cacophony. Maestro Rossi shaped the reading in an enormous arc, never retreating from the rise in intensity in its most cathartic moments.

The takeaway from the concert is clear; the Miami Summer Festival is carving an important place for itself in South Florida’s classical scene. Set in the off-season, the Festival provides musical enrichment and accessibility the city has been thirsting for, produced by exceptional performers at affordable prices. They will close their 2015 season with two fully staged operas set to premiere this week, the whimsical fairy tale Cendrillon by Massenet (Jul. 30, Aug. 1), and Mozart’s titillating Don Giovanni (Jul. 31, Aug. 2). Both productions will be held at Barry University’s Broad Auditorium. Tickets range from $15-20 and feature full orchestra.

More information and tickets can be found at www.miamisummermusicfestival.com .
Cendrillon (Massenet)
Thurs., Jul. 30 – 7:30 pm
Sat., Aug. 1 – 7:30 pm

Don Giovanni (Mozart)
Fri., Jul. 31 – 7:30 pm
Sun., Aug. 2 – 2:00 pm

The Shepard & Ruth K. Broad Performing Arts Center
Barry University
11300 Northeast 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33161

Cuteness Overload: Miami Summer Music Festival Opens with a Family Hit

And sometimes opera isn’t even operatic… it’s just adorable.

We’ve heard a lot of hype about the Miami Summer Music Festival recently, which opened this week and already held two recitals at the Betsy Hotel in SoBe. The brainchild of Washington National Opera conductor Michael Rossi, the Festival attracts young pre-professional and emerging musicians from all over the world to gain experience performing at the intensity level of professional companies, but with instruction and masterclasses to polish its performers. It held its inaugural run last year and was well received in its endeavor to mount three fully-staged operas and multiple orchestral concerts in a four-week period. This year, to raise the stakes, the Festival is programming four fully-staged operas. In four weeks.

The ambitious programming, however, has been clever. The Festival opened the incredibly family-friendly children’s opera Hansel and Gretel last night (instrument petting zoo… ‘nuff said), but will also put up the more mature-themed Albert Herring by Britten next week, and then the French fairytale Cendrillon (Massenet) and the sexy Don Giovanni (Mozart) the week after. These operas all range in themes, musical styles, and targeted audiences, meaning there will ultimately be something for everyone to enjoy.

Last night was for the kids and it was, as we mentioned before, ADORABLE.

The festival is grooming the next generation of opera lovers by offering an outreach component with a children’s production. To kick off the evening, members of the orchestra waited outside the venue with a range of instruments – horns, strings, plenty of percussion – and invited families with young children to come try them out. The musicians were quickly swamped with little ones jumping at a chance to bang on the snare or channel their inner Satchmo on the trumpet sans inhibition. The lobby was filled with the clamoring, inharmonious noise of children getting to test drive instruments they might later want to study in without the pressures of potentially getting it wrong.

When everyone was finally corralled for the start of the show, founder Rossi turned to the audience and asked for a volunteer. Hands went up like lightning bolts, and a 6-year old girl beat out the rest to join him at the conductor’s podium. “Have you ever conducted an orchestra before?” he asked his young guinea pig. Under his tutelage, she made her debut with clear sense of rhythm and natural precociousness – the first great performance of the night.

Next up to bat was Maestro Yuriy Bekker of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, who conducted the performance with warmth. A children’s opera, Hansel and Gretel, by Engelbert Humperdinck, is usually sung in German, but was performed in English for this run – another smart move to increase accessibility with families. It opens with the siblings bored and hungry, attempting to drudge through their chores. Here Jooyeon Song shone as a believably gangly and boyish Hansel in both her acting and interpretation, harnessing the elegance of her mezzo-soprano timbre to betray her character’s quick-changing emotions.

The children ultimately upset their mother and are sent into the woods to pick strawberries where they dawdle until night falls, setting them up for their adventure. The sandman, played by Kara Smoot, entices the children into a deep sleep, but before they fall under her spell, both remember to say their prayers in the beautiful duet, “When at Night I Go to Sleep.” Latini’s clarity and Song’s warmth, buoyed by a chorus of fourteen angels, was a touching and serene moment in an otherwise boisterous story.

The cast hit its stride during the scenes at the Gingerbread House, where it’s likely everyone in the audience wanted to warn Hansel and Gretel of the danger to come. The witch, sung by Melissa Tegeler, was just endearing and warm enough to make a family-friendly villain, and Latini and Song played off of each other’s emotions as real siblings might, working together to outsmart the witch and save the day. The opera has a refreshing ending, wherein the children save themselves, and the two leads bubbled over with energy in their final scenes, reunited with their parents.

Effective, charming, and perfectly targeted to its audience of children ages 5-15 and their families, the MSMF’s opening opera was a delightful experience to partake in. If we can expect the same level of polish and enthusiasm from the Festival’s participants in their upcoming productions, Miamians will be in for a treat.

At time of publication, Hansel and Gretel is enjoying an encore matinee performance with a different cast at Barry University’s Broad Theater.

For more information about the Miami Summer Music Festival’s other upcoming productions, visit www.miamisummermusicfestival.com .

Your New Jazz Fall Back : KJ Trio @ Lagniappe

Miami is a fast-paced city. Alive, pulsing with art and music. Miamians party like it’s a job – in the City of Vices, partying can, in fact, be a job.

Trust us, Sunday night rolls around and we don’t want to sit at home and lament the coming Monday either. But perhaps painting SoBe red all weekend didn’t leave you with much energy for another night out. So try on our favorite new routine for a change of pace.

The ever-popular Lagniappe doesn’t need help bringing business through the door. The renovated Midtown-based house-turned-wine garden has a wide following, with live music seven nights a week, a limited but excellent menu, and some of the best wine selections in Miami. Each night of the week, however, brings a different energy, and Sundays just may be the classiest.

A typically quiet night for restaurants and bars, Lagniappe has smartly secured the KJ Trio for Sunday night sets. Founded and run by Costa Rican composer and bassist Kenneth Jimenez, the group plays a majority of original compositions punctuated by a few key classic standards for several hours of fantastic modern jazz. Still an undergraduate student at Florida International University, Jimenez has been performing professionally in Costa Rica since his teens and the US since he transplanted here for a musical education. The young bandleader, at 24, has a natural knack for writing. His compositions balance the sensibilities and heritage of the great jazz tradition with some Latin nuance and modern evolution. Keyboardist Derek Fairholm improvises with exceptional lyricism, a rare talent, and drummer and prominent Miami jazzer Rudolfo Zuniga rounds out the group with richly intricate and melodious percussion.

These guys are energetic, easy to talk to, and happy to play, and the gratefulness of crowd is apparent. The trio seeks no attention or ‘bandstand’ (pun only mildly intended), but always manages to hush the room and garner applause as they settle into their sets. Go frequently enough and you might catch them on a night when friends of theirs visit and step in for open jam sessions. The energy is magnetic as musicians from Miami, Chicago, and New York all feed off of each other, often playing together for the first time in years.

The KJ Trio can be found around town and are hire-able for private events, but catch them at Lagniappe for a Sunday night to clear your head before Monday hits. KJ hits at 9pm.

knthjimenez.com for booking.

Sundays 9-11pm
@ Lagniappe
3425 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33137