by Richard Johnson
JAMAICA is replete with stories — everyday tales which, if put in the hands of that special scriptwriter can make it on to the stages and screens of the world.
There is word that Kingston’s Myrtle Bank Hotel, the famed local establishment along the waterfront which is said to have hosted movie stars, musicians, diplomats and anyone who wanted to be someone, is to be rebuilt.
With the hotel’s rich tradition, why not use it as the backdrop for a musical, set in 1949? That must have been what ran through the mind of writer/director Keiran King as he conceptualised Last Call, now playing at the UWI’s Philip Sherlock Centre.
The plot follows four high school friends who reunite by design and coincidence at the famous Kingston hotel. What follows is a tale of love — looking for it, lost it, don’t believe in it, need it — all set to great music and a good family entertainment.
From the moment the lights dim in the theatre, it is clear that attention has been paid to detail as the live seven-piece orchestra led by Karen Armstrong strikes up with the overture.
When the curtains open that attention to detail is even more stark with the well-appointed set, dressed in brown tones. Ranging from dark chocolate to shades of beige, this gives the production a ‘sepiad’ look harking back to 1949.
These tones are continued in the costuming, which follows the similar brown tones again to great effect.
The cast features Maurice Bryan who plays Cecil, the showy banker who insists that love is not his thing and Andrew Lawrence as the wise seen-it-all, old bartender Clarence. Love-lorn BOAC flight attendant Rose is played by Rishille Bellamy; ‘disappointed puppy’ Joe, played by Shayne Powell, and seductive chanteuse Dee Dee whose character comes to life courtesy of Sakina Deer.
Last Call is truly a feel-good piece whose script doesn’t take you to the edge of your seat eating your nails with suspense, but it definitely entertains with a steady pace, great use of space, clever lines and of course the music.
Writer/director King cleverly weaves some old standards of the period with original music, and this is used to great effect throughout the piece to tell the story and move the plot along. The merger of My Funny Valentine and Just One of Those Things is a case in point, as the two songs, sung simultaneously, bring across the divergent points being expressed by characters Joe and Dee Dee.
With the exception of Lawrence, who is well-known for his commanding tenor voice, the other members of the cast make a good unit musically. Bellamy, the daughter of renowned music teacher Paulette Bellamy, shows her range and merges acting and singing to great effect; her facial expressions are at time priceless. The surprise for many is the voice that inhabits the svelte frame of Sakina Deer. Not known for her singing, she delights the audiences as the lounge chanteuse at the Myrtle Bank. Her matter-of-fact tone makes the sarcasm of the character come together. Shayne Powell is perfectly cast. His soft, light voice is on point for the naiveté of the character. Bryan, the pompous banker is another well-suited fit for the role demonstrating what many deem ‘short man’ syndrome in the way he flashes his material gains — money, car, suit, job.
Last Call offers that refreshing change on the local theatre scene, which is dominated by comedies and ‘roots’ theatre. This production is neither, although these are comedic moments which add to the overall enjoyment of the piece.
The cast and crew of Last Call can take a well-deserved bow for this one. Bravo!