By Thom Smith
For three decades, Lou Tyrrell has generated hard-hitting drama in Palm Beach County, first with the Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches, then with the Pope Theatre and with The Florida Stage, until last June, when the curtain fell with a thud. The move to the Kravis Center from Plaza del Mar in Manalapan had looked promising … until the economy fell into the pit. Tyrrell had no choice but to close.
But once a trouper, always a trouper. “I was trying to figure out what would be the next model,” Tyrrell said. “It was obvious that our crowd wasn’t going to follow us up to the Kravis. In the new model, people would have a place to come where the show was part of a larger experience.”
Meanwhile, in Delray Beach, Alyona Ushe, with help from the Community Redevelopment Agency, was turning the ground floor of the new parking garage at Old School Square into a hub for the arts — musicians, actors, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, writers and art educators. Voila! The Arts Garage.
To enhance the city’s image as a thriving arts community, the CRA also bought a 15,000-square-foot warehouse with 28-foot ceiling a couple of blocks away in Pineapple Grove. Envisioned as an “arts incubator,” it could provide space for galleries, studios, education and — here’s where Tyrrell fits in — a multi-discipline black-box theater.
“They asked me to sit on advisory committee of the warehouse,” Tyrrell said. “Meanwhile Alyona asked me to do some theater at the garage. This was the new model I was looking for.”
Tyrrell went right to work. A Master Playwright Series opens Feb. 7 with Israel Horowitz doing a reading of Line, which has been playing in New York for 39 years. On Valentine’s Day, John Pielmeier will read Agnes of God, followed by Bill Mastrosimone (Feb. 21) and John Guare (Feb. 28). A reading festival of six new plays will follow in the first week of March and on March 16, Woody Sez will open for a three-week run. A musical with a bite, it celebrates the centennial of folk hero Woody Guthrie.
“What Woody was writing about during the Great Depression is just as pertinent today. The echo is clear and consistent,” Tyrrell said. “We feel it’s a great way to launch a theater program.”
In conjunction with the Guthrie production, Tyrrell will revive a Florida Stage program of education outreach. Students from five schools and two children’s centers will write monologues and songs based on their experiences during the downturn. The best will be performed.
If Woody Sez Is successful, he’ll develop a full performance season for next year.
“Here we go again! I was in my 30s when I did this the last time,” Tyrrell laughed. “To come full circle is a real gift to me and allows me to contribute to the community where I’ve lived for 30 years. If there’s a nook or cranny, we’ll try to turn it into a theater. We can’t help ourselves.”
The theater at the former Florida Stage in Manalapan has been empty for a year and a half now.
But Palm Beach Gardens producer and performer Alan Jacobson plans to change that.
Jacobson said he plans to bring a mixed bill of music, musical revues and theatrical works to the 252-seat space, which will be called The Plaza Theatre.
He promises “a hybrid between a regional theater and a performing arts space.”
Stephanie Young, marketing director for Plaza del Mar, confirmed the deal.
There will be a sneak preview of the theater during a grand opening for the plaza on Jan. 20. A soft opening, with the Dreyfoos School of Art troupe Dreyfoos to Go!, is set for Feb. 14. The first big act will be Donna McKechnie, who starred on Broadway as Cassie in A Chorus Line. Her show, My Musical Comedy Life, will consist of a performance and a master class. It is scheduled for Feb. 17-18, and a Neil Sedaka revue, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, is set for March 1-18.
For tickets, call 385-2683.
Moving to a new home: More often than not, it’s dreadful. Things break or disappear. Maybe a caster falls off a chair … a file cabinet topples … the coffee urn shorts out.
But this is one of those blue moons reserved for joy, and one look into Rena Blades’ eyes confirms that she’s tickled pink with her new digs. As executive director of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council she knows some things aren’t right … yet … but she can see the big picture — a new home, a showcase for her organization and the artists it supports.
“So many people have no idea we even exist,” Blades said a day after beginning the move into the building at 601 Lake Ave. in Lake Worth. “Now they’ll really know who we are and what we do.”
Since it was founded in 1978, the Cultural Council has served as the spine for the county’s arts community. But its offices were hidden in a high-rise on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. Modern conveniences, but no style. The new headquarters on the main street in one of the county’s most artistically active cities will give it a face and certainly more personality.
The space is boiling over with credentials. The Art Deco Lake Theater opened in February 1940. As a college student in the late ’60s, I saw Joseph Strick’s film version of James Joyce’s Ulysses there. As times changed, it served as a disco and a restaurant theater.
In 1980, Patrick Lannan bought the building. He lived in Palm Beach and New York, was a director of ITT, a member of the executive committee of Macmillan Publishing and chairman of the board of Poetry magazine. He also collected art, lots of it, and he could use the renovated theater to spotlight promising artists.
Three years later he was dead. In 1986, the Lannan Foundation decided to move most of the 5,000 works in his collection to Los Angeles, and in 1989 it donated the building and more than 1,100 works of art to Palm Beach State College (then Palm Beach Community College). It was renamed the PBCC Museum of Contemporary Art, but according to news reports, the college was not a good steward. Works were damaged. More than 100 disappeared.
In 1999, Palm Beach attorney, arts patron and museum trustee Bob Montgomery and his wife, Mary, bought it and its contents for $500,000 and renamed it the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art. New energy brought new exhibits and cutting-edge shows, but it couldn’t attract a sufficient endowment.
In March 2005 it again went into hibernation, but soon after the Cultural Council began to envision it as its showcase, the face on the body. In 2008, Bob Montgomery died. Negotiations soon began with his family and with Lake Worth city officials. In January 2010, the deal was announced: The family would donate the building and its contents to the council, and the city would put up $700,000 in cultural improvement money for renovations.
“When we got it, it was essentially just a big box,” Blades said. “It took some work, but for the first time, this building has offices,” Blades said, pointing to new glass-tiled walls overlooking the main gallery. We still have 2,500 square feet of exhibition space, which will be more than enough. But the main thing is that for the first time in our history, we’ll be an active presence in the community.”
Now the waiting is almost over. Blades expects to finish the move this month. The old ticket booth will serve as a welcome area. A ramp from the original theater leads from the lobby to the display area. Overhead in the lobby is the only vestige of Lannan: the whimsical, somewhat bawdy figures in Tom Otterness’s frieze, Battle of the Sexes, which he commissioned for the original museum, remain saucily vigilant. Not surprisingly, they survived.
If you want art and culture, Palm Beach and West Palm Beach aren’t quite up to snuff. Judging from the 2012 Muse Awards, recently announced by the Palm Beach County Cultural Council, southern Palm Beach County is the place to be. The year’s top art or cultural program was the Morikami’s Bon Festival. The Boca Raton Museum of Art was named the top arts and cultural organization with a budget more than $500,000, and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival at Delray’s Old School Square (coming Jan. 16-21) was the best under $500,000.
Artist and educator Steve Backhus, outreach program manager for the Milagro Center in Delray Beach, whose “unique and tailored programs teach young people how to discover their individual creativity and reach their highest potential,” was named the outstanding arts educator, while FAU art professor Carol Prusa was honored with the Herbert Ubertalli Award for Visual Arts. So there!
For tickets ($300) to the Muse Awards gala dinner and show Feb. 9 at the Kravis Center, call 472-3340.
Five stars for the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach and The Four Seasons Resort, the only hotels in Florida to max out in Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil). So what if the Ritz is in Manalapan and the Four Seasons is only a few yards north of Lake Worth beach.
The only central Palm Beach resort to draw attention was The Breakers, with four twinkles, still not bad when none in Lauderdale, Miami or Miami Beach — including The Four Seasons, Loews, the Mandarin Oriental or Trump International — could score better than four stars.
On the restaurant side, Café Boulud and The Restaurant (at The Breakers) managed four stars.
Of course, diners don’t hold back when assessing restaurants. Whether they’re visiting their favorite hole-in-the-wall pasta joint, chowing down at a Chinese buffet or making the annual outing for the candles-and-piano anniversary treatment, they want it done well. Americans, according to the annual Zagat rankings, dine out 3.1 times a week and 66 percent of them say service is their No. 1 concern.
South Floridians, however, eat out more — 3.4 times a week — and 72 percent have problems with service. Of course, with the average meal price at $40.70 (New Yorkers pay $43.36 and Las Veggies a whopping $47.53), they have a right to complain.
Not many problems in the new 2012 Zagat guide, however, with Café L’Europe, which scored 27 (out of 30) in service as well as food and décor.
Chez Jean Pierre in Palm Beach and Marcello’s La Sirena in West Palm Beach were tops in food, 28, and scored 26 in service. Drawing mention in Boca was Chops Lobster Bar — 26 for service along with The Breakers’ Flagler Steakhouse and Café Boulud. Delray’s Sundy House scored 27 for service, trailed at 26 by Piñon Grill in Boca, Michelle Bernstein’s at The Omphoy and Cafe Boulud.
Wonder what Zagat diners will think of Iggy Lena’s pizza. Recently opened in Delray’s Pineapple Grove, the one-time paramedic’s aptly named Pazzo Italiano (“crazy Italian”) offers — along with pasta, subs, salads and desserts — a 30-inch pizza. Price is $29.99, but before you scream, consider that it’s almost four times the size of a 16-incher that typically goes for $10 or more.
Lena’s a big believer in marketing. He’s owned restaurants before and also sells real estate. At one former venture called Heart Stoppers, waitresses dressed as nurses served 3-pound, 13-inch-high burgers. Lena continues to think big: He says he’s working on a 48-inch pie. Hello, U-Haul!
On a slightly more somber note, Breathe brings Mediterranean cuisine to Atlantic Avenue, but daring to go where none have ventured, before. The restaurant-lounge-nightclub is west of Swinton Avenue at 401 W. Atlantic. General Manager Sylvie Benloulou promises “a funky new twist on Mediterranean region fare” from Executive Chef Marcel Ivan in a chic, stylish and intimate atmosphere that includes a couple of DJs and, on the patio, hookahs (tobacco only).
Another time and place … for Callaro’s Prime Steak and Seafood. Seven months ago it closed a decade-plus run at Plaza del Mar in Manalapan. On Dec. 28, co-owner Danny Callaro reopened in his hometown at the corner of Lake and J Street with his husband and wife partners Keith (he’s the chef) and Beth (she manages the front of the house) Scragg. It’s in the spot formerly occupied by L’Anjou.
“I am so excited to bring Callaro’s to my hometown,” Danny said.” My family and I have lived here for many years and I always wanted to be downtown. We have had such a wonderful experience working with our neighbors and the city of Lake Worth. The climate is right for a steakhouse on the avenue.”
Here and there.
Sources say he travels light, with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a baseball cap to mask his identity, but they still know it’s country music star Kenny Chesney when he checks into the Delray Beach Marriott or makes a non-singing visit to Boston’s down the street, as he did during the holidays. Has something to do with a girlfriend who lives here. . .
Another girlfriend-boyfriend deal — this time the hometown boy was lunching at Boheme Bistro with his squeeze while checking our real estate brochures: Could Nick Loeb and Sofia Vergara be looking for new digs in Delray? Nick, who’s been living in L.A., wants to sublet his New York apartment, and says he’ll be spending more time in Florida.
… Fresh from her recent smash interview with ex-boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya, Univision journalist Teresa Rodriguez was spied near the beach in Delray with a friend from Miami … and travel guru Johnny Jet (aka John Di Scala) checked in at the Delray Marriott. He has family in Gulf Stream.
Thom Smith is a freelance writer. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org