Highbrows and culture vultures complain that there is a dearth of decent cultural offerings in Miami. What do locals tell them? Go back to New York! In all seriousness, however, in recent years, Miami's performing arts scene has improved greatly. The city's Broadway Series features Tony Award-winning shows (the touring versions, of course), which aren't always Broadway caliber, but usually pretty good and not nearly as pricey. Local arts groups such as the Miami Light Project, a not-for-profit cultural organization that presents live performances by innovative dance, music, and theater artists, have had huge success in attracting big-name artists such as Nina Simone and Philip Glass to Miami. Also, a burgeoning bohemian movement in Little Havana has given way to performance spaces that are nightclubs in their own right.
The Actors' Playhouse, a musical theater at the newly restored Miracle Theater at 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables (tel. 305/444-9293; www.actorsplayhouse.org), is a grand 1948 Art Deco movie palace with a 600-seat main theater and a smaller theater/rehearsal hall that hosts a number of excellent musicals for children throughout the year. In addition to these two theaters, the Playhouse recently added a 300-seat children's balcony theater. Tickets run from $27 to $40.
The GableStage, at the Biltmore Hotel, Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables (tel. 305/445-1119), stages at least one Shakespearean play, one classic, and one contemporary piece a year. This well-regarded theater usually tries to secure the rights to a national or local premiere as well. Tickets cost $35 for adults, and $15 and $32, respectively, for students and seniors. GableStage announced in 2009 that it would take over the abandoned, landmark Coconut Grove Playhouse using $20 million in designated county improvement funds to create a larger, 600-seat theater. Construction was expected to start in 2012 and end in 2014.
The Jerry Herman Ring Theatre is on the main campus of the University of Miami in Coral Gables (tel. 305/284-3355). The University's Department of Theater Arts uses this stage for advanced-student productions of comedies, dramas, and musicals. Faculty and guest actors are regularly featured, as are contemporary works by local playwrights. Performances are usually scheduled Tuesday through Saturday during the academic year. In the summer, don't miss "Summer Shorts," a selection of superb one acts. Tickets sell for $14 to $16.
The New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables (tel. 305/443-5909; www.new-theatre.org), prides itself on showing renowned works from America and Europe. As the name implies, you'll find mostly contemporary plays, with a few classics thrown in. Performances are staged Thursday through Sunday year-round. Tickets are $35 on Thursday, $40 on Friday and Saturday, and $35 to $40 on Sunday. If tickets are available on the day of the performance -- and they usually are -- students pay half-price.
In addition to a number of local orchestras and operas, which regularly offer quality music and world-renowned guest artists, each year brings a slew of classical-music special events and touring artists to Miami. The Concert Association of Florida (CAF; tel. 877/433-3200) produces one of the most important and longest-running series. Known for more than a quarter of a century for its high-caliber, star-packed schedules, CAF regularly arranges the best "serious" music concerts for the city. Season after season, the schedules are punctuated by world-renowned dance companies and seasoned virtuosi such as Itzhak Perlman, Andre Watts, and Kathleen Battle. Because CAF does not have its own space, performances are usually scheduled in the Miami-Dade County Auditorium or the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts. The season lasts October through April, and ticket prices range from $20 to $70.
Several local dance companies train and perform in the Greater Miami area. In addition, top traveling troupes regularly stop at the venues listed below. Keep your eyes open for special events and guest artists.
The Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd. in South Beach (tel. 305/674-1040), which has become an architectural showpiece of the Art Deco District, opened in 2006 after a $4.3-million renovation that added wing and fly space, improved access for those with disabilities, and restored the lobby to its original Art Deco look.
At the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, West Flagler Street at 29th Avenue, Southwest Miami (tel. 305/547-5414), performers gripe about the lack of space, and for patrons, this 2,430-seat auditorium was once the only Miami space in which you could hear the opera (not any more). The Auditorium is home to the city's Florida Grand Opera, and it also stages productions by the Concert Association of Florida, many programs in Spanish, and a variety of other shows.
At the 1,700-seat Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., downtown Miami (tel. 305/372-0925), seating is tight, and so is funding, but the sound is superb. In addition to hosting the Miami Film Festival, the elegant Gusman Center features pop concerts, plays, film screenings, and special events. The auditorium was built as the Olympia Theater in 1926, and its ornate palace interior is typical of that era, complete with fancy columns, a huge pipe organ, and twinkling "stars" on the ceiling.
Not to be confused with the Gusman Center, the Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr., at 14th Street, Coral Gables (tel. 305/284-6477), is a roomy 600-seat hall that gives a stage to the Miami Chamber Symphony and a varied program of university recitals.
The newly revamped Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, located in South Beach at Washington Avenue and 17th Street (tel. 305/673-7300), may be a mouthful, but when it comes to live music, it truly rocks. In addition to its very modern Hard Rock-meets-Miami Beach decor, complete with requisite bars, chandeliers, and an homage to the original legendary Fillmore in San Francisco, Fillmore, which was taken over by Live Nation, brings major talent to the beach, from Kid Rock and Fall Out Boy to comediennes Sarah Silverman and Lisa Lampanelli. Fillmore also hosts various awards shows, from the Food Network Awards to the Fox Sports Awards.
Last, but definitely not least, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. (tel. 786/468-2000), opened in late 2006 after a whopping $446-million tab. In 2008, philanthropist Adrienne Arsht donated $30 million to the financially troubled center, renaming it the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County (or the Arsht Center, for short). Included: The 2,400-seat Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House and the 2,200-seat Knight Concert Hall are Miami venues for the Concert Association of Florida, Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet, and New World Symphony, as well as premier venues for a wide array of local, national, and international performances, ranging from Broadway musicals and visiting classical artists to world and urban music, Latin concerts, and popular entertainment from many cultures. The Studio Theater, a flexible black-box space designed for up to 200 seats, hosts intimate performances of contemporary theater, dance, music, cabaret, and other entertainment. The Peacock Education Center acts as a catalyst for arts education and enrichment programs for children and adults. Finally, the Plaza for the Arts is a magnificent setting for outdoor entertainment, social celebrations, and informal community gatherings.
Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the Carnival Center is the focal point of a planned Arts, Media, and Entertainment District in mid-Miami. The complex is wrapped in limestone, slate, decorative stone, stainless steel, glass curtain walls, and tropical landscaping, and was completed in mid-2006. Newly opened within the complex is a bona fide restaurant, Prelude by Barton G. (tel. 305/357-7900; www.preludebybartong.com), an old-school yet modern supper club featuring prix-fixe pre- and post-theater menus. The biggest joke in town, however, is that after spending all that money, the planners forgot to include parking facilities. As a result, valet parking is available for $10 to $20 or you can park at the Marriott nearby, but it's truly a pain, so to make things easy, just take a cab. It'll cost you the same and you won't have to deal with traipsing across Biscayne Boulevard in your fine theater threads. For more information, check out the website at www.arshtcenter.org.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.