Wed | Jan 16, 2019

For the Reckord | Audiences enthusiastic about two JMTC shows

Published:Friday | February 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Residents chat on a peaceful evening in the village square.
A boastful Gaston (Jevon Ferril) comforts one girl while two others fight over him.
The entire cast of 'Beauty and the Beast' on stage, blend their voices in song.
Karla Tulloch is clearly focused on her song.

Douglas Bennett, who, for decades before his death in October, provided leadership for both the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) and its offspring, the Jamaica Junior Theatre (JJT), would have been delighted with the current work of the two companies.

The audiences at two of their recent shows certainly were. They gave enthusiastic applause and cheers to last week Sunday's JMTC concert at The Alhambra Inn as well as the JJT musical at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), Mona, that I attended this past Sunday.

The concert, Love Changes Everything, was dedicated to Bennett and featured a number of his favourite songs, many sung by people he helped to train. The musical is Beauty and the Beast, a Walt Disney Pictures' Academy Award-winning 1991 animated movie, and then, for the past 13 years, a Broadway musical.

Carole Reid, who both produced and sang in Love Changes Everything, called on many other JMTC members who regularly perform in the company's annual concerts at Alhambra for the show, which included songs from opera, Broadway musicals, and the popular music canon. Individually, the singers were excellent; together as a choir, they were superb.

The singers were Dawn Fuller-Philips (contralto) and sopranos Reid, Jodi Ho Lung, Karla Tulloch, and Stephanie Hazle, and tenors John McFarlane, AndrÈ Shepherd, David Reid, and Carl Bliss. Accompanying them were pianists Kamla Hamilton and Ann Trouth, while other instrumentalists were drummer Brandon Goffe and guitarist Shawn Richards.

The spoken word came from David Tulloch, who gave a tribute to Bennett, Tiffani Robinson, who read some Easton Lee poems; and the informative compere, Jeff Cobham. Other concerts in the 2018 series will be on March 4, April 15, May 6 ,and June 3.

This musical, which closes on Sunday, has been staged twice before (in 1998 and 2009) by the JJT, which Bennett founded in June1983. In an interview with me last year he referred to its creation as 'The best thing I have ever done'.

He had reason to be proud of it. Giving training and exposure to dozens of children and teens, the not-for-profit company produces concerts and full musicals annually and has given millions to various charities. In fact, Sunday's final staging of Beauty and the Beast is a benefit performance for the Doug and Christina Bennett Foundation, which provides scholarships to young people.


High-Quality Talent


The high-quality adult artistic talent behind the show are Akeem Mignott and Danielle Stiebel-Johnson (directors); Jodi Ho Lung (musical director, props designer, and set designer); Liane Williams (choreographer); Carolyn Chin Yee (costume designer), Greg Thames (make-up designer) and Robin Baston (lighting designer).

Their job is, of course, to make the young performers look and sound good, and they (the performers) do because they are fundamentally talented. As the musical requires, they act, dance, and sing, and they did so well at Sunday's show that the audience continually applauded.

Terri-Lee Taylor and Romario Ricketts, who star as the respective Beauty and Beast of the title, showed that they could become professional performers. It wouldn't be unusual. Many former JJT child stars have gone that route.

Other performers to watch are Jevon Ferril, who plays the boastful lover-boy, Gaston; Kevaun Merchant (Lumiere); Johan Gordon (Cogsworth); and Kodi Ann Brown (Mrs Potts). The last three characters are some of the animated objects in Beast's castle.

They were once humans but had a spell put on them at the same time that one was put on the prince of the castle, turning him into Beast. The opening scene shows why: he was unkind to a beggar. Like most fairy tales, this one has a moral. Beast's redemption comes when he becomes a caring person and gets Beauty (a.k.a Belle) to fall in love with him.