IN FORMATION: Spirituals, folk gems and operatic selections combine for a solid showcase.
A powerful Revival Bands Medley brings the curtains down on the 2016 concert season of the University Singers, inside the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona. Featuring the choristers clad in crisp white uniforms (with red and blue headwraps), the piece was wonderfully arranged by Andre Bernard, a super talent who’s been with Singers only a few years but is already showing the signs of a future leader. With such vivid imagination and commanding stage presence (he plays The Captain to Danielle Lee’s Mother), Bernard clearly has a lot to offer.
The Revival Bands Medley is chock-full of timeless Jamaican spirituals, hints of the Rex Nettleford aesthetic and the kind of infectious energy that tempts you to get up and join in the revelry. Audience members responded as expected, tapping their feet and grooving right along with the rousing song and dance playing out on stage.
The brilliant piece also underscores the University Singers’ commitment to delivering surprising and richly entertaining arrangements for their loyalists, while showcasing a fantastic blend of voices. Add to that a mélange of genres and moods that guarantees a diversely appealing show.
You get slices of opera (the spiced-up “Love is Like a Rebellious Bird” from Carmen; a sublime “Love’s Duet” from Mozart’s Magic Flute), spirituals and sacreds (the robust “Joyful Joyful”; a delicate treatment of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”) and even gospel, thanks to a vigorous take on Kurt Carr’s “If I Tell God,” fittingly choreographed by Kevin Moore, which ends the first half.
The second half is largely comprised of jaunty folk numbers, the lion’s share plucked from the vast Noel Dexter catalogue. The highlights are plenty, with such standouts as the dramatic “Hol’ De Man”, the domestic face-off “Dina Dina” and the lively “Tief Tek Over Town,” from the Barbara Gloudon-penned pantomime Reggae Son.
You don’t attend a University Singers performance and not expect to enjoy a delightful solo moment or two. Terrific tenor Roy Thompson oozed class and control as he tackled “Nessun Norma,” made famous by the late great Luciano Pavarotti; Kristal Morgan was brilliant taking the lead on “Woyaya” (from Sweet Honey in the Rock), while ace soprano Althea McKenzie put in showstopping work on the gorgeous “Rocking Jerusalem.”
As the choir welcomes exciting new additions to the family, stalwarts like Carolyn Reid-Cameron, Peter Allen, Kathy Brown and co-directors Franklin Halliburton and Heston ‘Pencil’ Boothe remain at the forefront of the fold, safeguarding a legacy that’s grown leaps and bounds and is taking this incredible, internationally acclaimed choir well into a vibrant new era.
> The University Singers’ 2016 season is on at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI, from June 3 to 26.
>> INTERVIEW: Heston ‘Pencil’ Boothe in the artist spotlight