The Coastal Star

Around Town: Kravis’ silver anniversary a glittery, star-studded event

TOP: Michael Feinstein has performed each of the 25 years that the Kravis has been open. ABOVE: Jeff and Aggie Stoops attended the Kravis Center’s 25th anniversary gala performance on Feb. 11. Photos provided by Capehart

By Thom Smith

A crouching lion, a modern day Acropolis. The rounded lobby and copper-domed roof even suggest a streamlined steam locomotive roaring along the Coastal Ridge, the highest point in West Palm Beach. Regardless of its appearance, for a quarter century the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts has been a beacon not only for culture and the performing arts, but for the area’s residents, workers and visitors.
On Feb. 11, the miracle on the ridge celebrated its silver anniversary with a gala performance.
    Michael Feinstein, who has performed at the Kravis every one of those 25 years, hosted and joined Alan Cumming, Denyce Graves, Storm Large, Darren Criss and Neil Sedaka to provide the vocals. Lil Buck and Jon Boogz added elastomeric dance moves, Cameron Carpenter the organ theatrics, all backed up by Karma Kamp singers and dancers and the Kravis Pops Orchestra.
    The first gala — Nov. 28, 1992 — featured sopranos Leontyne Price and Roberta Peters, violinist Isaac Stern, jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, actresses Lily Tomlin and Faith Prince, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra.   
    “Is this a miracle or what?” host Burt Reynolds asked as the curtain rose.
    To many, he wasn’t kidding.
    So much had happened since Jan. 13, 1989, when bigwigs in hard hats jammed shovels into sandy soil some eight miles south on the shore of Lake Osborne.  
    “There is no way this project can fail,” Palm Beach Community College President and eternal optimist Ed Eissey proclaimed, even though the project’s price tag had already doubled to $62 million. Three weeks later, college trustees began to balk — too many questions, not enough answers.  A month later the construction company threatened to pull out.
    Undaunted, the primal force behind the center, WPEC-TV owner Alex Dreyfoos, quietly and industriously pressed on. Downtown West Palm Beach was in the midst of revitalization. Land had been cleared along Okeechobee Boulevard, and West Palm Beach officials suggested an alternative to the lake. Five months after that ill-fated groundbreaking, the deal was sealed to put the Kravis atop the ridge overlooking the derelict Connie Mack Baseball Stadium.
    A dejected Eissey was promised use of the Kravis Center for college programs plus downtown classrooms at the soon-to-be-renovated Twin Lakes High School next door. But the waters remained choppy as Burt Reynolds offered Eissey his Jupiter theater as a teaching facility. One condition: Renovations would come from $10 million the Florida Legislature had earmarked for the Kravis Center at PBCC.
    Reynolds’ offer fell through in August; the downtown deal for PBCC disappeared in October. (Twin Lakes was transformed into the showcase Dreyfoos School for the Performing Arts.)
    In the end, it all worked out. The MacArthur Foundation gave Eissey 5.4 acres to build an auditorium-theater complex at PBCC’s (now Palm Beach State College’s) north campus. It opened in 1994 as the Eissey Campus Theatre.
    Reynolds sold his theater and it served two more companies and a church before becoming the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in 2004. It remains a thriving tribute to community involvement.
    As is the Kravis, for the 8 million who have bought tickets to shows and more than 2 million students who have participated in its arts education programs, for the arts and business communities and for residents of Palm Beach County and beyond.  
    “Beyond expectations,” exclaimed Kravis CEO Judy Mitchell at the gala, as she soaked up the scene and made sure the event ran according to plan. Mitchell started as development director in 1989, overseeing fundraising. Three years later, she became the boss — overseeing 200 full- and part-time employees, 700 volunteers and a $24 million budget.
    With the title of “founding board chairman,” Dreyfoos, who turns 85 on March 22, is technically semi-retired, but he still makes his presence known. A true renaissance man — his father was an inventor and photographer, his mother a cellist — Dreyfoos combined both to claim 10 patents plus a love of the arts. He was convinced that high-tech research facilities would be attracted to Palm Beach County by thriving arts and cultural programs.
    That initial $30 million construction price tag that rose to $62 million eventually peaked at $100 million. But only $18 million was government money; $82 million came from private sources, corporations and individuals. The Helen K. Persson Society, a permanent endowment program named for one of the Kravis’ most devoted patrons, now boasts 139 members and has more than $19 million in hand.
Among performing arts centers, Kravis’ attendance recently ranked No. 2 in the state behind only the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, No. 15 in the nation and 20th worldwide according to Pollstar, a trade publication for the concert tour industry.
“Just over a quarter-century ago, building a major performing arts center in Palm Beach County seemed an uphill challenge,” Mitchell said. “Today, a thriving cultural complex, which serves as a gateway to downtown West Palm Beach, not only serves the community but also is gaining a worldwide reputation as a premier entertainment venue and arts education facility.”
    Though the baseball stadium long ago gave way to the Kravis parking garage, the adage from the movie Field of Dreams still holds true: If you build it, they will come.
                                    ***
    The 11th annual Concours d’Elegance rolled into the Boca Raton Resort & Club Feb. 10-12. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy provided the entertainment at the Gala Dinner and show, which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, but the real stars at this party are automobiles — some on display, some up for auction, some old, some new, some costly and some downright outrageous.
    Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Corvettes, Porsches. More than half of the cars on the block sold, including four that went to online bidders. Among the 71 cars up for bid, more than half sold for a total of $2.5 million, including a 1966 Citroen 2CV (a la Inspector Clouseau) at a bargain $9,900 and a ’59 Nash Metropolitan at $11,000. Other notables: a ’48 Chevy Woodie, $55,000; a ’49 Fiat Topolino, $38,500; and  a ’66 Corvette Stingray, $93,500.
    Top bids went to a 2011 Porsche 911 Speedster, $246,750;  ’97 Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster, $189,000; and a ’96 Porsche 993 Turbo, $187,000. Several, however, didn’t make minimum bid, including a 1965 Lancia Flaminia valued between $325,000 and $425,000, and a ’94 Ferrari Berlinetta ($300,000-$325,000). A ’63 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud convertible also fell short. No one was willing to bid $550,000.
                                    ***
    The restaurant scene in Lantana doesn’t generate the buzz of, say, Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach or Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, but the clientele is loyal. When a change occurs, those customers buzz.
Such is the case with one of the best and one of the smallest eateries in the county. In 2009, Dak Kerprich, a veteran of the high octane restaurant wars, turned a 1950s house on Ocean Avenue just east of Walgreens into Pizzeria Oceano: five stools at the inside counter, six snug tables on the outside deck under umbrellas. So close to the street that passing cars provided a pleasant breeze.
    Using only local food sources and a custom-built wood-burning oven, Kerprich fashioned some of the tastiest and most unusual pizzas anywhere. Octopus, even, on a menu that changed every day. When the food ran out, he closed. Regulars knew to arrive early.
    A couple of years ago, however, Kerprich altered course, serving up Jerk Oceano, or Jerk O for short. The pizzas remained but he served up more seafood, albeit a bit more Caribbean in style. He also took a short-lived stab at a takeout only with Swell Pizza in Delray’s Pineapple Grove, but even a couple of years before that, Kerprich was searching, hoping to find a spot with a little more space, a kitchen slightly larger than 15 feet square.
    That all changed a couple of months ago when Jeremy and Cindy Bearman, peripatetic New Yorkers, made an offer Kerprich couldn’t refuse. Word is that he’s enjoying the break but looking toward possibilities in West Palm Beach.
    While Kerprich is gone, the name remains, in part, as Oceano Kitchen, still cash only, still with local suppliers, daily menu changes — and pizza.
    The Bearmans met in a New York kitchen. Each claims solid credentials with stints in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, including Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate for Jeremy and ABC Kitchen for Cindy. The domed, wood-burning pizza oven remains, and Jeremy brought along his prized giant smoker from his most recent gig at One Door East in Fort Lauderdale. Recent menu offerings included an entree of pulled pork sandwich with ginger sauce, beet greens and an avocado corn salad and for dessert, lady finger banana bread with chocolate ganache, toasted graham crumbs and coffee anglaise.
                                    ***
    Down in Boca Raton, the Mizner look is giving way to 1940s Rome at Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, which is set to open in late March in the new Hyatt Place Hotel at the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Federal Highway.  The restaurant, affiliated with Big Time Restaurant Group (Rocco’s Tacos, City Oyster), is the second for Bossi, who opened his first in Fort Lauderdale two years ago and plans a third in Delray Beach next year.
    Just about everything is made in house — from pasta, to pizza dough to gelato, even the pancetta — and guests can choose from 300 seats in the 8,000-square-foot dining room or the 2,000-square-foot patio, decorated with a fireplace, an active bocce court and a 70-year-old Vespa, claimed to be the only one in the world with two side cars. (Not used for delivery!)
    Bossi will waste no time becoming involved in the community. In his ninth year of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, he’s spearheading  “A Taste of Recovery” June 3 at Old School Square in Delray Beach. It’s a benefit for the Crossroads Club in Delray Beach, which helped Bossi. Tickets are $40 and will offer bites and desserts from Rocco’s Tacos and City Oyster in Delray Beach, Mario’s Ocean Ave in Lantana, The Grille on Congress in Boca Raton and others.
                                    ***
    Food for thought. Marilynn Wick is expanding the restaurant service at The Wick Theatre to attract diners, even when the curtain is closed. Lunch and dinner will be served Wednesday through Sunday, the kitchen under the direction of chef Marc Cela, who for 25 years topped the bill at L’Anjou in Lake Worth.
    “The restaurant has been a very popular spot for pre-theater dining,” Wick said, “but now with Chef Cela’s stellar reputation, our goal is to establish Tavern at the Wick as one of the best restaurants in the area.”
                                    ***
    Two performers from the 2016 Festival of the Arts Boca were up for Grammy awards Feb. 12.
    No hardware for either Herb Alpert, who turns 82 March 31, or Joey Alexander, who’ll be 14 in June, but the latter returns to Mizner Park Amphitheater March 5, this time with another youngster.
    Mexican pianist Daniela Liebman turns 15 in June, but their performance will be anything but a kiddie show. The program includes classical works by Johann Strauss and Felix Mendelssohn and some jazz from conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.
    Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall, blew away the Boca Festival crowd last year. She was originally a singer with Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. This year on March 12 Mendes closes the festival, although the group has changed — ’66 is now 2017.
    Elsewhere in the festival lineup, Grammy-winning sax man Branford Marsalis (March 3); New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff: “I Only Read It for the Cartoons: An Insider’s History of The New Yorker” (March 4); presidential historian and Time magazine editor Jon Meacham discussing “The Art of Leadership — Lessons from the American Presidency” (March 6); physicist Brian Greene: “Beyond Einstein: Space, Time and Reality” (March 7);  violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Daniel Hsu with The Symphonia (March 10); and the world premiere of the original Pink Panther with live orchestra. (www.festivaloftheartsboca.org)
                                    ***
    A few hundred feet to the south, Mizner Park Cultural Center has come alive. Golda’s Balcony, the longest-running, one-woman show in Broadway history, plays March 17-19. DaVinci & Michelangelo: The Titans Experience, a multimedia tour de force, plays March 27-29. Broadway/Hollywood legend Renee Taylor examines My Life on a Diet (March 31 and April 1) and a day later Forbidden Broadway serves up two shows, followed by Robert Dubac’s The Book of Moron, April 6-9. (miznerparkculturalcenter.com)
                                    ***
    Delray remains busy with nine shows set for Old School Square this month, including Lorna Luft, March 13 and 14, The Klezmatics, March 16, and Linda Lavin’s My First Farewell Concert, March 27 and 28. The month opens March 3 with Rhythmic Circus: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now! and New York City-Country band Shotgun Wedding, March 5. Classical crossover ensemble O Sole Trio goes “From Pavarotti to Pop,” March 9, and Angela LaGreca and Dick Capri offer “Catch a Rising Star Comedy,” March 10, while Shades of Bublé presents a three-man tribute to Michael Bublé, March 17-19.
    A well-traveled production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park closes out the month March 24-26. Well-traveled in the truest sense, the Montana Repertory Theatre affiliated with the University of Montana in Missoula is hitting the road for its 50th season. The 44-performance tour opened at home Jan. 20, bounced around Montana for two weeks, and the Midwest for a month. Now in the Deep South for another month, including stops in Fort Lauderdale, Belle Glade and three Century Villages, it will wrap April 2 in Sandusky, Ohio. And you thought only the buffalo roamed in  Montana.
                                    ***
    For the ninth year, Savor the Avenue returns to Delray Beach on March 27. Only a few spaces remain for “Florida’s longest dining table,” which stretches 1,300 feet on Atlantic Avenue between Fifth Avenue (U.S. 1) and Swinton. Four-course meals with libations will be served by 16 of the city’s top restaurants, including such veterans as 32 East and 50 Ocean and newcomers ROK:BRGR and Che!!! Menus and contact information are posted at www.downtowndelraybeach.com/SavortheAvenue; reservations must be made directly with the participating restaurants no later than March 24. Tickets range from $90-$150 depending on the restaurant. Three dollars from each meal ticket will go to the Delray Beach Public Library.
                                    ***
    Brace yourself! The Boca West Foundation has found its “dream girl.”
     Headlining the foundation’s annual Concert for Children, April 4, at the Boca West Amphitheater will be Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson. Money raised from the concert and the $200,000 Charity Golf Challenge the day before plus 45,000 hours donated every year by Boca West residents provide assistance to more than 5,000 children and 24 area charities.  
       Hudson follows such superstars as Patti LaBelle, Jay Leno and Diana Ross. For information and tickets, $200 for the concert, with seats assigned by lottery, $600 to play golf and/or $150 for the awards presentation and cocktail party, call 488-6980 or email foundation@bocawestcc.org.

                               ***    
    “I did it, but he made me do it.”
    That was the defense used by Delray Beach developer Anthony Pugliese in his suit against the late Subway founder Fred DeLuca. The six-member jury, however, concluded that Pugliese had ripped off DeLuca with phony invoices and owed DeLuca’s estate $2.9 million for a botched effort to build Destiny, a “green” city near Yeehaw Junction.
    The jury rejected Pugliese’s argument that he had faked expenses because DeLuca wasn’t paying his fair share, upward of $20 billion.
    The damages against Pugliese could be tripled or even quadrupled for breach of contract and other misdeeds.
    With his lawyers vowing to appeal, Pugliese remained pugilistic: “I’m ready for the next fight.”
    
Thom Smith is a freelance writer who can be reached at thomsmith@ymail.com.








                                    


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