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Best of Cleveland

Arts & Entertainment

Best of Cleveland 2011: Arts & Entertainment 

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Best Place to See a Stage Show

Playhouse Square

Boasting nine performance venues in and around a historic theater complex, downtown's Playhouse Square is the country's largest performing arts center outside New York — and the world's largest theater-restoration project. As a result, there's rarely an evening when the curtain isn't rising on some type of quality entertainment: everything from the touring Broadway company's South Pacific to the exuberant noise of Stomp! — plus opera, comedy, concerts, lectures, and kids programming. It all makes Playhouse Square the region's best bet for live entertainment.

1501 Euclid Ave.; 216-771-4444;

playhousesquare.org

Best Local Theater Company

Beck Center for the Arts

After more than 75 years of presenting quality theatrical performances and arts education to Northeast Ohio, Beck Center is woven deeply into our cultural fabric. Beck's professional theater productions include a traditional yet diverse combination of musicals, dramas, and comedies on two separate stages, and their education programs extend throughout the community. As a result, more than 100,000 locals per year get a welcome dose of art from Beck Center.

17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood; 216-521-2540;

beckcenter.org

Best Actor

Scott Plate

Actor-director Scott Plate is a familiar face on Cleveland stages, with a résumé that includes work at Great Lakes Theater Festival, Dobama Theatre, Cleveland Play House, and Cleveland Public Theatre. And as chair of the Music Theater Department at Baldwin-Wallace College, he's also helping shape the upcoming crop of talent. Most recently, Plate starred in A Steady Rain at Dobama, where Scene critic Christine Howey declared him "a wonder." With raves like that, it's no wonder why Clevelanders' pick Plate as the city's best actor.

Best Director

Scott Spence

As Beck Center's artistic director since 1992, Spence has produced and directed more than 200 musicals and plays, including Sweeney Todd, Reefer Madness, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. And that impressive figure doesn't even touch on the theater work he's done outside Beck's walls, or his role at Cleveland State, where he teaches directing. In a move that highlighted his style, Spence brought the controversial Jerry Springer: The Opera to the Beck stage this winter. Critical opinion was mixed. But there's no doubt that Spence struck a mighty blow on behalf of Cleveland theatergoers for artistic integrity and freedom of expression.

Best Downtown Hotspot

Liquid Cafe

The elder statesman of Warehouse District club life, Liquid is still ground zero for the weekend's liveliest action. Not sure what you're up for? The complex boasts a trio of venues that caters to virtually every taste: from the laid-back lounge vibe of Liquid, to the upscale enticement of Suite Sixx, to the dance marathon unfolding at Ultra. Come football season, Liquid comes alive on Sundays too — as a hub for pre- through post-game Browns partying.

1212 West Sixth St.; 216-479-7717; liquidcleveland.com

Best Gallery

Spaces

There is no place else in the Midwest quite like Spaces, the 32-year-old artists' resource and public forum that encourages creative types to stretch beyond their comfort zone. The gallery boasts no permanent collection and is not focused on installations. Instead, programs like the experimental SpaceLab and an innovative residency experience emphasize the process, not the product, of art. You can go to a museum and see art hanging on the walls. Or go to Spaces and hang around with people who make art.

2220 Superior Viaduct; 216-621-2314;spacesgallery.org

Best Bar for Hooking Up

The Velvet Dog

The Velvet Dog is located in the heart of the Warehouse District, the epicenter of Cleveland hookups. With three floors, Top 40 dance music, and lots of room to mingle, it's no wonder this place is so popular with twentysomethings looking for, um, love is it? It's practically dripping with horny young people. If you can't get laid here on a Friday or Saturday night, you're not trying very hard. Or you're really, ghoulishly ugly.

1280 West Sixth St.; 216-664-1116;

velvetdogcleveland.com

Best Jazz Club

Nighttown

Nighttown is Cleveland's best for so many reasons: It's a cozy room where you can eat dinner, sip drinks, and listen to music. It offers one of the best-sounding venues in the city (perfect for all those little details jazz tucks in the corners). But most of all, a parade of old jazz legends and rising jazz stars play the venue every week.

12383 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-795-0550; nighttowncleveland.com

Best Blues Club

Brothers Lounge

Brothers has been around since the early 1960s, and it's offered a mix of local bluesmen and national legends ever since. The roomy stage is filled virtually every night of the week with musicians playing Chicago blues, Delta blues, and almost any type of blues that falls in between. Plus, the weekly Jam Night (hosted by the Bad Boys of Blues) is one of the best places in town to show off your chops.

11607 Detroit Ave.; 216-226-2767; brotherslounge.com

Best Drag Performer

Kari Nickels

Kari is a staple of Cleveland's gay club scene, where her platinum-blond hair, tattoos, and ginormous rack make her a standout among a field of so many copycats. She's also a regular at Bounce, where she hosts some of the club's hottest events, lip syncs to dance-floor favorites, and commands the stage with all the force of a guns-blazing tank.

Best Dance Club

The Velvet Dog

Three floors blast all the hits you want to hear, from Britney's latest to that new Lady Gaga song that sounds like Madonna. And the DJs keep the flow moving all night long. And since it's located in the thriving Warehouse District, you'll almost always find a willing dance partner for your big moment on the floor.

1280 West Sixth St.; 216-664-1116;

velvetdogcleveland.com

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