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Miami Theater Productions Affected by Omicron Surge

Despite widespread vaccinations and implementation of state-of-the-pandemic safety measures, the latest COVID-19 surge caused by the Omicron variant is forcing several Miami-Dade County theater companies to alter their seasons in ways large and small.

The key moves:

  • GableStage has pushed the run of Claudia Rankine’s The White Card to February 25-March 27; delayed the world premiere musical, Me Before You, to the 2022-2023 season; and added Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking to the current season at Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel.
  • Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables is delaying On Your Feet!, the biographical Broadway musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan, by two weeks; the show will now run February 9-March 6.
  • Zoetic Stage is presenting its world premiere run of Hannah Benitez’s GringoLandia as planned January 13-30 in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Arsht Center. But the company has opted to switch out its large-cast production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music for the intimate revue Side by Side by Sondheim, which will run March 17-April 10.
  • Miami New Drama at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach is winding up its world premiere run of the Louis Armstrong musical, A Wonderful World, on January 16, with plans to stream the show soon. But the company is pushing back the runs of the rest of its season by two weeks, with Winter Miller’s When Monica Met Hillary now set for its world premiere from March 3-27 and the world premiere of Carmen Pelaez’s The Cuban Vote from April 21-May 15. Dates for the fourth show, Papá Cuatro, are still to be announced.

Changes and delays have not, of course, been limited to these four companies in Miami-Dade.

Not Ready for Prime Time, a play by Erik J. Rodriguez and Charles A. Sothers about the early days of Saturday Night Live at the new Westchester Cultural Arts Center, moved its run dates from December 31-January 16 to March 17-April 10. And Prelude to 2100, an immersive, futuristic, multidisciplinary piece created by Susan Caraballo and more than 30 artists, has shortened its planned run at Miami’s Deering Estate by a week and will now welcome outdoor audiences February 3-4 and February 6.

Theaters in Broward and Palm Beach counties have been affected as well — with some delaying opening dates; Boca Raton’s Theatre Lab postponing its 2022 New Play Festival; and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre making major changes due to COVID-related construction delays on its $36 million building renovation.

The bottom line: Throughout South Florida, artistic directors have been challenged yet again to figure out ways to keep their colleagues, artists, and audiences safe and their seasons financially viable.

Bari Newport, navigating her first season as GableStage’s producing artistic director, was concerned about having The White Card director Lydia Fort, the cast, and creative team in rehearsal during the Omicron surge for the previously planned January 14-February 13 run.

“At the end of the day, it turns into a financial decision on par with questions of health, in terms of capacity and conditions,” Newport says. “There’s no way we could afford an understudy for every role, and I don’t want to put anyone in the position of having to start and stop a production.”

click to enlarge The GableStage South Florida premiere of Claudia Rankine’s The White Card is moving to late February. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN LUCAS

The GableStage South Florida premiere of Claudia Rankine’s The White Card is moving to late February.

Photo courtesy of John Lucas

The White Card, a searing play about a Black photographer and wealthy white arts patrons, also has a vital post-show audience engagement element led by Katie Christie of Voices United. Unlike the rest of GableStage’s productions, The White Card will not be streamed and must be experienced in person.

Moving The White Card into the slot intended for the world premiere musical Me Before You prompted other changes. The Janece Shaffer-Kristian Bush musical, about the effects of the hearings over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination on a long-married couple, will instead get an intensive nine-day workshop. Donors and potential sponsors will be able to get a first look during a staged reading at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach on February 2. The show would get its world premiere production next season.

The Florida premiere of Jessica Provenz’s Boca will go on as planned April 22-May 22, then GableStage will present the solo show, The Year of Magical Thinking, from June 3-26 in tribute to author Joan Didion, who died last month. In collaboration with the Abre Camino Collective, GableStage will present Cuban-American actor Ruben Rabasa in Rubenology: The Making of an American Legend from July 14-31. Tanya Saracho’s Fade, a Teo Castellanos-directed dramatic comedy about class and culture within the Latino community, is scheduled to close out the season from August 19-September 18.

For Newport, making most of the season available through streaming is significant in several ways.

“I think it is wildly important. There are a thousand reasons why people cannot physically come to the theater. Many have immune-compromised systems, or someone doesn’t want to come without his or her spouse,” she says. “It’s also a fantastic way to introduce a company’s work everywhere. Theater tourism is a real thing.”

Making changes to the season was a difficult but necessary decision, she adds.

“I need to make sure the marathon can be run, not just the sprint,” Newport says. “I’ll have to manage the company’s ambitions long-term vs. making pragmatic moves going forward.”

According to artistic director David Arisco of Actors’ Playhouse, pushing the start of On Your Feet! performances was also a matter of safety and numbers.

“We’re back in pause-and-pivot mode,” he says. “We had planned a six-week run, so now we’ll do a four-week run, with the option of extending a week if sales are great.”

The musical — directed by Miami native Andy Señor Jr. (who was associate director of the Broadway production) and choreographed by Natalie Caruncho (a member of the Broadway and touring casts) — will feature actors from Broadway, the national tour, and South Florida, as well as musicians from the Estefans’ Miami Sound Machine. Claudia Yanez, who played Gloria’s younger sister and understudied the lead role on Broadway, will play Gloria at Actors’ Playhouse, and Jason Canela will portray Emilio.

On Your Feet! is the largest show Actors’ Playhouse has produced since COVID-19 hit, with 21 adult actors and two children, two swing performers, and each role understudied by others in the cast, as well as a ten-piece orchestra.

“We’ve had time to get all our COVID safety protocols in place, and I think everyone feels better about coming here,” Arisco says. “Everyone in the company will be tested three days a week and will wear masks at rehearsals. I’m optimistic we’ll get through the season with quality and safety.”

click to enlarge GableStage producing artistic director Bari Newport has shuffled her first season. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MAGNUS STARK

GableStage producing artistic director Bari Newport has shuffled her first season.

Photo courtesy of Magnus Stark

The Actors’ Playhouse season also includes Murder on the Orient Express (April 6-24), Hank Williams: Lost Highway (May 18-June 12), and Now and Then (July 13-August 7).

At the Arsht Center, Zoetic artistic director Stuart Meltzer didn’t consider moving the world premiere of Benitez’s GringoLandia because other productions (including Area Stage’s Be More Chill from February 4-27) were already booked into the Carnival Studio Theater. But he did decide that doing the large-scale A Little Night Music from March 17-April 10 wouldn’t be the best move during a pandemic that had first shut down the show during rehearsals in March 2020.

“I was looking at what was happening at my colleagues’ theaters, at the challenges and realities,” Meltzer says. “I decided that something smaller and a bit more controlled would allow us to continue on the path of the Sondheim work to which we’re so committed.”

Hence the scheduling of Side by Side by Sondheim, which includes three actors and Meltzer as the narrator. The show features songs from Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Pacific Overtures, and other shows by the profoundly influential Broadway composer-lyricist, who died on November 26, 2021. As planned, Zoetic will wrap up its season from May 5-22 with Alexis Scheer’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord.

“These are incredibly challenging times. You have to remain agile and have a sense of humor and be prepared,” Meltzer says. “If not, you’ll land a little too hard.”

Being agile helped Miami New Drama cofounder and artistic director Michel Hausmann and his colleagues navigate through the world premiere run of A Wonderful World. Despite daily COVID testing, the musical about jazz legend Louis Armstrong, with a book by former Miamian Aurin Squire, had to cancel performances during a run that will end January 16. Understudies and swing performers sometimes had to step in for ailing actors — and Hausmann was impressed.

“We sometimes performed with four swings, and the show is so solid you couldn’t tell. It was an eye-opener about the amount of talent here. They killed it with a few hours’ notice,” Hausmann says.

At the same time, not extending the run and giving the company some breathing room before the world premiere of When Monica Met Hillary seemed prudent.

“Not canceling, not pushing anything to another season was a matter of implementing systems and moving everything two weeks later,” he says, adding, “I’m trying to work to develop outdoor performance spaces, with the understanding that there’s a chance our world has changed for good. We have to pivot. We need to be doing more experiments to see what event-based storytelling will work.”

– Christine Dolen, ArtburstMiami.com

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