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With "The Gift," Michael Leeds aims to take his audience higher

Staff Writer

Where does Michael Leeds find the time?

Many South Floridians may know the Boynton Beach resident as a highly sought-after director, but he’s also a successful screenwriter (“The Simian Line” with Harry Connick Jr., William Hurt and Tyne Daly) and choreographer (“End of Summer” with Jacqueline Bisset and Peter Weller).

Oh, and he’s a playwright.

His latest play, “The Gift,” will have a premiere reading 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center’s Studio Theatre in Boca Raton. The free event is part of the Summer Theatre Fest Play Reading Series, presented by WLRN and the South Florida Theatre League.

“It took me two years to write, mostly because of other projects that kept coming up,” Leeds says. “I was looking around for something to write, and the Dramatists Guild was doing this thing on how writers get inspired with [playwright] Tina Howe, and she said something like, ‘Write what you know is certainly valid, but what is really inspiring is to write what you fear.’ And I have always been a little claustrophobic. So I thought I’ll write about someone trapped in an elevator.”

On the surface, “The Gift” is about a young woman and a man stuck in side-by-side elevators. They come to realize that they may also be trapped in each other’s dreams, taking the play into the realm of magical realism.

“I’ve always been drawn to the fantastical element, whether it’s heightened reality or whether it’s a mystical element in the world I am creating,” Leeds explains. “It unlocks my imagination and unlocks the imagination of the audience, as well.”

Leeds held “two very informal readings” at GableStage and New Theatre in Coral Gables, after which he says he clarified the story’s journey and heightened the emotional connection to the characters.

“I fell in love with his characters,” says Candace Caplin, executive director at Parade Productions, which is producing Monday’s stage reading. “His characters were so lovable and so accessible and complicated, and I just fell in love with these people and wanted to know how it all worked out. I think what I really enjoyed the most was hearing Michael’s voice throughout it. When I read this play, it was like being told a story by an old friend, although I think it is absolutely accessible to everyone.”

In New York, Leeds’ glossiest credits include co-writing and directing “Swinging on a Star” (which earned a Best Musical Tony nomination in 1996) as well as directing and choreographing “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah — The Allan Sherman Musical” off-Broadway at Circle in the Square in 1992. In 2000, he directed Charlotte Rae and Jane Powell in a concert production of the Kander and Ebb cult musical “70, Girls, 70” at the York Theatre Company

Here in South Florida, he has directed shows for Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale, Naked Stage in Miami Shores, the Plaza Theatre in Manalapan and the Boca Raton Theatre Guild.

And somewhere in there, Leeds carved out enough time to write another show that will eventually be staged in New York.

“It’s a musical called ‘Mirror,’ and I finished the treatment,” he says. “It’s about a mirror in the ladies’ wardrobe room in a Hollywood studio lot in the ’30s … and she comes to life. She’s tired of reflecting everyone. She wants to be seen.”


When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 1

Where: Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton

Cost: Free


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