Performing Arts

‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play isn’t the only gem at Summer Shorts

The cast of Charlie Cohen’s ‘Baked Goods’ sings about the joys of Girl Scout cookies.
The cast of Charlie Cohen’s ‘Baked Goods’ sings about the joys of Girl Scout cookies.

First things first: Yes, there’s a short play by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as part of this year’s Summer Shorts. Yes, it is a musical. And yes — and this will come as a shock to approximately no one — it’s wonderful and so Mirandaesque you’d know who wrote it even if you didn’t know who wrote it.

But though “21 Chump Street” is the undeniable highlight of this year’s Summer Shorts, which runs through July 2 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center, it’s not the only play worth your time. Since its inception, City Theatre’s annual festival has showcased smart, funny and emotionally resonant short works. The format has changed over the years — it used to feature two separate programs, and it now highlights just one. But it stays true to the promise of its founders Susan Westfall, Stephanie Norman and Elena Wohl: The eight plays performed in this 22nd edition are thought-provoking examples of succinct storytelling.

Last year, City Theatre’s artistic director Margaret Ledford experimented with the lineup, throwing two musicals into the mix (she directed one of them, the hilarious space comedy “Warped”). This year’s lineup features three musicals, including the Miranda play, and they indicate this new tradition is worth keeping.

The set gets off to a strong start with the bittersweet “Choosing Love,” written by Chisa Hutchinson and directed by Jessica Farr, in which a young man (Phillip Andrew Santiago) seeking shelter from a storm has a surprisingly intimate encounter with a fortune teller (Thiana Berrick). If you’re unmoved, check your pulse. Also bittersweet is Timothy Huang’s poignant musical “Missing Karma,” directed by Ledford, in which a couple (Lindsay Lavin and Brien Reiff) mourn the death of their beloved dog — and, gradually, the disintegration of their relationship.

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Phillip Andrew Santiago and Thiana Berrick peer into the future in ‘Choosing Love’ by Chisa Hutchinson. George Schiavone

Two plays examine a different sort of relationship: the intersection of art and commerce. In Susan Westfall’s “The Best Seller,” directed by Farr, a literary writer (Irene Adjan) confronts the brilliant success of a colleague (Robert Strain) and her own lack of sales. In “Real Art,” directed by Ledford, an eager fan (Karen Stephens) wants to buy a painting the artist (Lavin) doesn’t want to sell.

The comedies also wield questions about the way we live today — and a savage dark humor. In Steve Yockey’s “Adorable Kitten Image Collapse,” directed by Paul Tei, an Internet troll (Reiss) is challenged by a knife-wielding victim (Adjan) and turns for help from his overworked Lizard Brain (Santiago), his undervalued Conscience (Strain) and a pair of giggling and deeply unsympathetic Internet gods (Berrick and Cassandra Zepeda). David Alan Mcgregor’s “Just Desserts,” directed by David Nail, takes an even darker and funnier turn, when a co-worker (Adjan), fed up with whoever is pilfering the company refrigerator, doles out poisoned brownies to catch the thief. Any fed-up office worker will delight in her matter-of-fact solution to an ongoing problem.

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Brian Reiff begs for an intervention from Internet gods Cassandra Zepeda and Thiana Berrick while his Conscience (Robert Strain, at left) looks on in ‘Adorable Kitten Image Collapse’ by Steve Yockey. George Schiavone

Which brings us to “21 Chump Street,” exquisitely directed by Ledford. The play, written before “Hamilton,” concerns a high school kid (Santiago, who is just terrific, all slouchy and wisecracking and full of yearning) with a crush on the new girl at school (Zepeda) who carries a whopper of a secret. “21 Chump Street” opens the second act, but it probably should have closed the program instead of the musical “Baked Goods,” directed by Tei, about a Girl Scout (Adjan) struggling to gain her cookie badge (and her mother’s praise). “Baked Goods” is cute, its design, staging and execution are perfect, and it makes good use of the entire Summer Shorts cast, particularly Reiff as a boy who longs to be a Girl Scout.

But the play’s songs are too easily forgettable when you’ve got Miranda’s “What I Gotta Do” and “Cousin” still ringing in your head. Those would be better notes on which to send an enthusiastic audience out onto the street, even if the play doesn’t exactly end on an upbeat note. Still, “Summer Shorts” is more than entertaining enough to bring you back when City Theatre’s Winter Shorts premiere in December.

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Cassandra Zepeda and Phillip Andrew Santiago star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘21 Chump Street.’ George Schiavone

If you go

What: Summer Shorts

When: Through July 2; 7:30 Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays except July 1 (no 2 p.m. show); 4 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Tickets: $39-$54; www.arshtcenter.org

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