Musical Beach

Premiere of Miami Beach – The Musical set for October

It’s a ubiquitous memory of bad, family television from decades ago. The quirky family elects with utter insouciance to stage a big stage production in the third act of the script.

“Let’s put on a show!”

Hell, even Seinfeld mocked the 70s network television standard and its utter randomness in its final episode, and even that was now many years ago.

But one can’t help but admire the spirit, however unlikely it is.

After all, wouldn’t it be fun to grab some talented friends, write up an entirely original script, ask some differently-talented colleagues to craft original music, and then send up, say, one’s own hometown, in a stage spectacular complete with humor, color and even real human emotion?

Surprisingly and setting aside all cheese, that is exactly what a creative core of folks have done over at Miami Beach’s landmark St. Johns Catholic Church.

“This is probably the biggest production we have ever done.” — Carol Hoffman-Guzman, founding director of Arts at St. Johns

In one of the most ambitious, original and creative flourishes to grace South Florida’s arts scene in recent memory, Arts at St. Johns will be premiering Miami Beach – The Musical on the first weekend in October.

They’ve decided to put on a show over there, but leave the converted school buses and pigtails at home. Miami Beach – The Musical is no small accomplishment, and it just might be on its way to becoming a new local theatrical standard.

“Miami Beach – The Musical was spurred by the incredible diversity of the people who have helped make Miami Beach,” said Carol Hoffman-Guzman, founding director of Arts at St. Johns. “It was sort of a group idea from several people. We realized that there had never been any [play] about the history of Miami Beach, even though there was always interest in the books written about it.”

David Kingery, Arts at St. Johns artistic director and the show’s primary scriptwriter, said that in the initial meeting at which the idea was born, the organizers recognized that their most successful performances were musical reviews.

“We also knew we wanted local sponsors and support, and someone said why not a musical that tells the history of Miami Beach,” Kingery said.

Idea in hand, the subsequent months were a lot of hard work.

Miami Beach – The Musical is based on historical facts about Miami Beach, as culled from many books and articles, plus dozens of stories and interviews from actual people who lived, worked and played here.

“There is a lot of history in it, but we have also incorporated into it real stories of people who live here or who have lived here – although we aren’t using their names,” Hoffman-Guzman said. “I’m a Sociologist so I sent out an email blast to collect people’s real Miami Beach stories for research.”

Stories of regular folks that might highlight aspects of the history of and life in Miami Beach are integrated into the play, along with real historical figures, incidents and events. And, although the production promises to entertain and inform in an uplifting fashion, the darker side of Miami Beach history is not omitted.

“Even though we deal mostly with happy stuff, we do address some serious issues such as the discrimination against blacks and Jews, political corruption, etc.,” Hoffman-Guzman said.

Over its hundred-plus year history, Miami Beach has, of course, attracted a grand mish-mash of dreamers, scoundrels, bigots, saints, politicians, and millionaires, along with many ordinary folks.  In the musical, the audience meets the people, both past and present, that made this happen — people from many backgrounds, races and lifestyles.

A team of writers, researchers, composers, along with a choreographer and lyricist, has worked on the project for over a year. Kingery then used his magic to weave fact and fiction into an uplifting and thought-provoking production.

“We left no stone unturned for material,” Kingery said. “It just kept snowballing into a huge, in-depth project with a real social message.”

Along with its original script tailored from the stories of both well known and everyday Miami Beach people, the production features some 16 entirely original songs.

“I’ve worked in this area for 20 years so I knew a lot of lyricists and songwriters,” Kingery said. “All of the songs are 100 percent original and by local songwriters.”

Although the play includes scores of parts, a cast of only nine was selected after a pair of open casting calls for the non-equity production.

The musical drama tells about a fictional “Miami Beach Hall of Fame,” for which the cast must select the most deserving personalities. As the actors champion their favorites and argue over excluding others, the audience meets myriad Miami Beach characters — all portrayed in original song, dance, drama, comedy, and music.

Hoffman-Guzman said that the original plans for the production morphed quite a bit from the day it was conceptualized, through the year of preparation, to today.

“It was going to be a smaller production that we would premiere in April,” she said. “But we realized that this was such a unique project, with original songs – we felt we needed to do something bigger.

“This is probably the biggest production we have ever done,” Hoffman-Guzman added.

It is certainly the most expensive, with the price tag to date for the production being about four times that of most other Arts at St. Johns stage shows. Although the organization already receives funding from the city and from Miami-Dade County, Hoffman-Guzman said they successfully reached out to sponsors and supporters to help bring Miami Beach – The Musical, to fruition. But the effort goes on.

“I’m still raising money for it!” Hoffman-Guzman said.

Arts at St. Johns is already held in high regard by many arts, theater and music aficionados.

“Personally I think they do a great job,” said Miami’s Ellen Weil. “I’ve seen a number of things there over the years and they have been impressive for a group of any size. I think they are one of several really under-exposed arts groups or programs in South Florida.”

Miami writer and theater buff Jeffrey Perry is less familiar with Arts at St. Johns, but is excited about Miami Beach – The Musical.

“Certainly I am sure it will be a lot of fun,” Perry said. “But what most interests me is that it is an all original and local production – local script, local talent, original songs. You have to realize that from a writer’s perspective, nothing seems quite as satisfying as that. You don’t see a lot of entirely local productions around, much less ones with more than a dozen original songs.

“It would be amazing if this opened the floodgates to real, honest, entirely locally created theater,” Perry added. “Then Miami and Miami Beach would really be the arts destinations we’ve been pretending we are. I am really looking forward to seeing what they do at St. Johns.”

If its creators have their way, Miami Beach – The Musical will not be a one-shot deal.

“It’s not intended to go back on the shelf,” Kingery said. “We want to see how it goes and then we will decide what to do with it.”

Hoffman-Guzman said that discussions are already tentatively underway with venues on both sides of the bay about bringing the show to other, bigger houses sometime in the future.

“Or else it might be something we want to repeat every year as an annual event,” she said.

Too much work and the dedication of numerous people have been invested in the yearlong project for it to fade after its premiere weekend.

“A lot of people have been involved, our creative team has grown a lot and no one through this whole process has negated what it is we’re doing,” Kingery said. “We’re really optimistic that this is just a start.”

If the quirky 70s television family is watching somewhere, this is how to put on a show.

Tickets are now on sale for all three performances. Performances are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2, at 8 pm; Sunday matinee, Oct. 3, at 3 pm. Advance sale tickets of $20 ($25 at the door) can be purchased online at http://www.miamibeachthemusical.com/ — or by mailing a check to Arts at St Johns, 4760 Pinetree Drive, Miami Beach 33140 ($20/ person and please indicate show date on check). All performances are at Arts at St Johns, 4760 Pinetree Drive.

About Michael W Sasser

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