Festival of the Arts BOCA reports 11,000 people attended 10-day event

A tiny Imperial warrior enters the Mizner Park Amphitheater to view the film, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Photo courtesy of StoryWorkz Photography.

By: Dale King Contributing Writer

It was a squeaker this year for the 14th edition of Festival of the Arts BOCA.

Organizers managed to present 11 events in 10 days – from Feb. 28 to March 8– and completed all of them before the coronavirus arrived in Florida and threw a damper on large gatherings.

“We ended in the nick of time,” said Joanna Marie Kaye, the fest’s executive director. “People were beginning to get worried.”

The combination entertainment, literary and theatrical program that’s been held in Boca Raton yearly since 2007 had “some amazing moments,” Kaye said, “as there always have been.”

Colder-than-usual temperatures se­emed to descend upon the festivities held in the Mizner Park Amphitheater and a tent set up next door for authors to address the crowd. Kaye said the coolest temps set in for the Beethoven Birthday Bash the night of Feb. 29 when concession stands offered coffee and even hot soup for the frosty visitors.

To honor the 250th birthday of the famed classical composer, Festival of the Arts brought in the Eroica Trio, three women performing on cello, violin and piano. They joined the Boca Raton Symphonia under the baton of conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos to perform some of Ludwig Von B’s classics.

Kaye said this year’s festival drew about 11,000 people to the amphitheater at the north end of Mizner Park. The biggest draw, she noted, was the final event that featured Postmodern Jukebox, an ensemble of genre-bending singers and musicians known for taking songs originally done in one style and presenting them in a totally different way.

Case in point. Vocalist/master of ceremonies Michael Cunio (who introduced himself as “Coolio”) presented the Michael Jackson fave, “Thriller,” as a 1930s jazz piece, complete with Cab Calloway “Hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi” opening.

Known widely as PMJ, the jazz and soul-fueled troupe is a rotating musical collective founded by arranger and pianist Scott Bradlee in 2011, when he began shooting videos with friends from college in his basement apartment in Astoria, Queens.

In less than a decade, PMJ has amassed more than 1.2 billion YouTube views and four million subscribers. When Cunio asked the audience how many had seen the group before or were fans, at least half applauded.

PMJ twisted a couple of other tunes with remarkable agility. Meghan Trainor’s “All about the Bass” was an up-tempo success and the Christina Aguilera tune, “Genie in a bottle,” got a full workout. The show also featured a top-notch version of the Taylor Swift song, “Shake it off.”

Second-largest crowd, said Kaye, arrived for the showing of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the sequel to “Star Wars” which filled the screen at Mizner last year. The film’s music score created by John Williams was wiped out, and added live by the Boca Raton Symphonia during the performance.

The festival got off to a lively start with Troupe Vertigo performing physical feats of power and beauty, paired with music from the Symphonia.

Milos, famed Spanish guitarist, performed on March 1, filling the amphitheater with some powerful music.

Kaye said author Jesmyn Ward did a double. She spoke to the crowd March 1 at Mizner Amphitheater and the next day, she visited Spanish River High School to answer questions from students. “It was such a powerful talk; they were all mesmerized,” said the festival director.

Other speakers were New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast, whose talk was sold out; Yale psychology instructor Dr. Laurie Santos and political analyst Amy Walter.

A Moth StorySLAM rounded out the afternoon of Feb. 29 and Nu Deco Ensemble, making its second appearance in two years, came from Miami to Boca Raton for the much-anticipated encore on March 7.

Kaye said it’s much too early to announce the schedule for 2021. She did say violinist Joshua Bell is going to return, and Verdi’s “Aida” will be presented in concert format by the Chatham Opera, conductor Kitsopoulos’ group in New Jersey.

She said it hasn’t yet been determined if another film with be shown with a live music track. “We’re still looking at that.”

But she did say: “There is one major act. We have made a request with Florida Atlantic University and should hear about that any day.”