Broward County turns 100 with a huge weekend party

Jon Secada is one of the headline stars of ‘WE,’ which gets its only performance at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Jon Secada is one of the headline stars of ‘WE,’ which gets its only performance at 8 p.m. Saturday. Gio Alma

Broward County turns 100 on Thursday, and after a yearlong celebration, the extended party culminates in Duende, a grand finale, birthday weekend blowout designed to showcase the best the community has to offer artistically.

Like Broward itself, the name Duende is somewhat difficult to define precisely. It’s that mysterious power that brings you to tears, makes you smile or gives you goose bumps (“goosies,” as Jennifer Lopez is fond of exclaiming) when you’re especially moved by an artistic performance.

“What we liked about the definition [of duende] was ‘the inspiration and passion in response to the arts,’” says Earl Bosworth, director of the Broward County Cultural Division, which has been planning this celebration for nearly three years. “We are trying to show the world what we have here and how important the arts are to the community.”

Then he adds, laughing, “And not only did the meaning fit what we were trying to do philosophically and conceptually, but it also just sounded cool, too.”

If the name of the event sounds cool, the event itself is even cooler. On Friday night, all day Saturday and into the wee hours of the morning, downtown Fort Lauderdale’s Himmarshee Village will be transformed into one enormous street party, enhanced by dazzling light shows and filled with more than 300 dancers, singers, musicians, DJs and artists — including popular local band Saigon Kick; Tito Puente Jr., son of the mambo legend; Grammy-winning pianist Marlow Rosado; Willie Stewart, formerly of the legendary reggae band Third World; 17-year-old local country singer Liddy Clark; and R&B/soul singer George Tandy Jr. — performing an eclectic mix of styles and genres.

“You will see a combination of performances that we don’t think our attendees have seen before,” says Bosworth, who is a musician and songwriter himself, “ranging from African drumming to metal, some good ol’ rock, and jazz. You’re also gonna see choreographed dance numbers ranging from hip-hop to ballet, and different combinations of dancers. It’s a lot of different styles of music, and most of the performers are Broward-based.”

Broadway-style ‘WE’

Equally grand but packing a bit more star power than Duende is an indoor event Saturday night at the nearby Broward Center for the Performing Arts called WE – The Passion & Rhythm of the People. This Broadway-style spectacle created by Cirque Dreams founder Neil Goldberg features music superstars including Grammy-winning UM grad Jon Secada and Broadway favorite Linda Eder, plus more than 100 South Florida musicians, dancers, poets, athletes and other artists. TV-familiar entertainers like Sisaundra Lewis (The Voice), Eliana Girard (So You Think You Can Dance), Lillie McCloud (X Factor) and Marquese Scott (YouTube) are also in the cast.

WE is much more than a concert, however; the show is a musically and visually spectacular tribute to the history of Broward County with themed scenes, vignettes and choreographed numbers that represent different aspects and eras of the community. It is also serving as a potential springboard for local performers, many of whom struggle to find exposure.

“About eight months ago, we started the audition process, which I thought was going to last a couple of days,” says Goldberg. “A couple months later, because we had seen over 3,000 people, I was so fascinated at the depth of richness of talent that existed, from the aspiring to the retiring, from the young performers that were in performing arts schools to those that just wanted an opportunity to get that break and perform, businessmen, officials, politicians, housewives — it was the most amazing audition experience I’ve had in my 40-year career in show business.”

It was also one of the most unusual auditions for Goldberg.

“I had a blank canvas to work from,” he said, “which is sort of reverse of the way these kinds of shows would be. There would usually be a story and a show arc and a concept, and you would then go audition and try to cast people to fit that bill. My goal [for this show] was to see what the assets were that we had in the community, and then see how to formulate that and pair it all together and create something spectacular.”

Representing different decades

Goldberg adds some invaluable advice for aspiring performers to use during an audition.

“I always tell young artists don’t ever try to anticipate what you think the director on the other side of the table is looking for,” he says, “because sometimes they do not even know themselves. I speak from experience, and this is a perfect example of that.”

From the lengthy audition process, Goldberg selected pairs of artists who could represent different decades of the evolution of Broward County: two 9-year-olds, two teenagers, two 20-somethings, 30, 40, 50 and so on.

“The show starts with this senior, modern-day couple in 2015,” Goldberg explains, “and through special effects and the magic of theater, that senior couple walks upstage into a three-dimensional screen, and they emerge as 9-year-olds. And we take the audience back 100 years ago to when I-95 didn’t even exist, and when A1A was only one lane, and the beaches were different. It’s really going to be a fascinating journey.”

Other highlights include a 3-D ride over the Everglades and “probably one of the most elaborate, authentic Caribbean junkanoo carnivals ever performed onstage,” says Goldberg. “The costumes are 20 feet tall, the performers and musicians are coming from everywhere, and it’s an important part of our society. That culture is an important part of our community.”

Star power

Of course, superstar talent will grace the stage as well, with Eder, Secada and others joining the audition winners. And the Cuban-born, Hialeah-raised Secada is particularly excited to be a part of the action.

“Anything that I can do for our community,” he says. “I was lucky enough to have been asked to [perform] when Miami Beach had its 100-year anniversary concert [in March], and I’m so appreciative of the fact that I live in the tremendous community of South Florida. It’s been a place for me where not only have I grown as an artist, but it’s where I live. And everything that I’ve done in my career more than any other place it was attached to what South Florida represents.”

As a Broadway veteran who was the first Hispanic artist to play Danny Zuko in the production of Grease, Secada — whose songs Just Another Day and Cuando Cuando will be part of the musical mix — says he’s enjoying the theatrical touch that producer Goldberg brings to WE.

“I love that,” he says. “I did three theater shows, and they were all amazing. Nothing made me grow more as an artist than doing any type of theatrical work.” 

If you go

What: ‘Duende,’ the celebration of Broward County’s centennial.

Where: SW Second Street, Esplanade Park and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.

When: 6 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday; ‘WE’ is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Broward Center’s Au-Rene Theater.

Cost: All events free except ‘WE’ (tickets $25 to $85; VIP dinner and show $160).

Information: 954-462-0222, www.broward.org/broward100/GrandFinale/ or www.browardcenter.org.

‘Duende’ Plus: Additional free events at ArtsPark at Young Circle, 1 Young Circle, Hollywood, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday; ‘Duende’ A.M.P. Festival at Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach, 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday.