The Theater Up Close series at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami will celebrate its tenth anniversary this fall, with five new productions mounted by two local theater companies — including one world premiere and two South Florida premieres.
Series shows will include “Frankenstein” by Nick Dear, directed by Zoetic Stage’s Stuart Meltzer, running from Oct. 14-31; “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” by Tom Mula, directed by City Theater’s Margaret Ledford, running Dec. 2-19; “GringoLandia, A Cuban Journey” by Hannah Benitez, directed by Mr. Meltzer, running from Jan. 13-30, 2022; Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” directed by Mr. Meltzer, running from March 17-April 10, 2022; and “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” by Alexis Scheer, directed by Tatyana-Marie Carol, running from May 5-22, 2022.
“Frankenstein” (South Florida premiere) offers a humane, insightful retelling of Mary Shelley’s immortal story, focusing on the plight of the creature and his desperate journey to fit into a world that doesn’t want him. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” follows the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s former business partner, who earns a chance to change his miserable fate — if he can change the unrepentant Scrooge. “GringoLandia, A Cuban Journey” (world premiere) tells the story of a Cuban man who returns to the country from which he escaped 50 years ago on a quest to recover a precious family heirloom. “A Little Night Music,” inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night” that examines the follies of love, won six Tony Awards in 1973, including Best Musical. In “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord” (South Florida premiere), four teenage girls gather in a Miami tree house to summon the ghost of Pablo Escobar.
Housed in the Arsht’s intimate, 200+ seat Carnival Studio Theater, the Theater Up Close series, has become a showcase for South Florida actors and playwrights as well as a vehicle for the community to enjoy critically-acclaimed new work from around the country. The Arsht has presented 52 productions over the last ten years including 13 plays by local playwrights, 12 world premieres and 17 South Florida premieres. The series has long reflected the area’s vibrant theater community through its ongoing collaborations with local theater companies Zoetic Stage and City Theatre, earning 42 Carbonell Awards and 112 nominations along the way.
Liz Wallace, Vice President of Programming.
Liz Wallace, vice president of programming at the Arsht Center, said her organization has always been about creating partnerships with other arts organizations.
“The center was built for 5 companies,” she said. “But by the time the center opened in 2006, Miami City Ballet, Florida Grand Opera, New World Symphony and Concert Association of Florida were the only resident companies left. There wasn’t a theater company. We wanted to provide an opportunity for theater makers, for playwrights and for performers from Miami and the world to come and perform here. That was really the impetus to create a theater series at the Arsht Center.”
Mr. Meltzer, Zoetic Stage co-founder and artistic director, said his company’s relationship with Theater Up Close began in 2010.
“We were looking for a home in Miami-area communities that were thriving,” he said. “The powers that be at the Arsht Center wanted to start a program with local theaters in the Carnival Studio Theater. They wanted to invite local companies — and not necessarily deep pocketed companies — and give them an opportunity and a place to produce. We opened with a play called ‘South Beach Babylon,’ which was a world premiere by Michael McKeever and was our inaugural production. It did very well.”
Mr. Meltzer, Zoetic Stage co-founder and Artistic Director.
Zoetic’s early success, Mr. Meltzer added, buoyed by the Arsht Center, resulted in the theater company quickly finding a home in its Theater Up Close series.
“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to produce four programs out of a five-program season,” he said. “As for the first offering of ‘Frankenstein,’ I love this story and I love the book. I love even more the sharpness and the incredible, quick depth and humor and scariness this new version has.”
The holiday time slot will be filled with “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” and City Theatre co-founder and literary director, Susi Westfall, said it offers a fresh take on the timeless Dickens classic.
Susi Westfall, City Theatre co-founder and Literary Director.
“It’s a holiday play around a story that people know, from the point of view of Scrooge,” Ms. Westfall said. “But they don’t know it from the point of view of Jacob Marley. It’s fun, it’s scary and it’s just so theatrical.”
Tom Mula adapted his own novella based on the familiar story to create his now popular play, she added, pointing out that audiences delight as much in the surprising twists and turns of the storytelling as the inspired tour de force of one actor magically transforming into 18 roles.
“We were delighted to become a part of a subscription series that we could do — besides our annual ‘Summer Shorts’ offerings — a full-length play,” Ms. Westfall said. “And this is a delicious play to do.”
“GringoLandia,” Mr. Meltzer said, is Zoetic’s first commissioned work of a playwright outside of his company.
“It’s a door that opens Zoetic Stage into further commissions by local playwrights and national playwrights,” he said. “So we’re moving into this direction as we grow up as a company.”
“A Little Night Music,” on the other hand, represents Zoetic’s continued dedication to producing more of Stephen Sondheim’s voluminous canon.
“We started several years back with ‘Assassins,’ ‘Passion,’ ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ and ‘Sweeney Todd,’” Mr. Meltzer said. “It represents Zoetic Stage’s love affair with his work. And I find Sondheim’s musicals, in a small space, open up tremendous opportunities for intimacy. These are ‘actor musicals’ and I think a lot of people who have a relationship with Sondheim’s music and are able to sit there so close in that theater space, get to enjoy something pretty dynamic.”
As for “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord,” it was an Off-Broadway hit and Alexis Scheer is actually a Miami-born playwright whose play he was happy to bring back home.
“She wrote an incredible play about four teenagers growing up in the Coral Gables area who conjure up the ghost of Pablo Escobar,” Mr. Meltzer said. “This wicked new play explores the darkest corners of the human heart. And it’s a funny, frightening, hysterical, honest look at young women.”
He added what’s so exhilarating about producing shows for the Theater Up Close series every year is the aspect that each season finds its own unique stamp of personality.
“We want to make each production an event, because our audiences love events,” Mr. Meltzer said. “They love being a part of the entire experience. So we ask ourselves at the outset, what are the stories that need to be told right now? Who are the communities we’re trying to reach? Answering those questions addresses our relationship with South Florida in general and Miami in particular.”
Ms. Westfall said City Theatre is dedicated to the development and production of new works and programming that entertains, informs and resonates with its diverse audiences. When the Arsht came calling with an invitation to produce a full-length play for the Theater Up Close series, she and artistic director Margaret Ledford wanted to make sure they chose a work they were interested in and appealed to the community. Part of the resonance of “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” she said, lies in parallels its story has with our own recent history.
“There’s something so poignant about coming out of a pandemic to do this particular play, because it’s about fate,” Ms. Westfall said, “and the challenge here is can this man change his fate?”
Zoetic Stage’s Theatre Up Close 2019 production of Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son with Clive Chloerton and Karen Stephens.