May 7, 2001 — There's a lot that's new and different about this year's STARfest revue at the Reichhold Center for the Arts — No. 7, for those who are counting.
It has a new person in charge. After six years of directing the annual talent shows that he started back in 1995, Reichhold Center director David Edgecombe turned the reins of this one over to longtime collaborator Malaysia Rabsatt.
It has a theme, "Celebrate the Century's Sensations." The century referenced, of course, is the 20th. The sensations are both songs and singers, according to Rabsatt.
It will have two performances instead of three. Mother's Day weekend has been the traditional time for STARfest, with shows on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. This year, your choice is Saturday or Sunday.
It will have a new master of ceremonies, sort of. Robert Luke did the honors for the early shows, joined in 1999 by a co-mistress and succeeded last year by George Silcott Jr. The emcee for STARfest VII is Max, who is … well, a computer-generated head. Max "mirrors the talking head concept in our TV spots," Reichhold marketing manager Dionne Carty points out.
The theme, and the idea behind it
"When we introduced the STARfest idea, we knew we would be filling a void by showcasing our islands' talented performers, as we do for every other Reichhold [house] presentation," Edgecombe says. "It is a real team effort that we are proud of. It is also a tradition the community loves and enjoys."
Rabsatt, lead choreographer for the last four STARfests, says she hesitated when Edgecombe approached her about directing this year's show. "However," she says, "after giving it some deep thought, I decided that it would be a good learning experience for me as well as a challenge — and I try not to turn away from challenges."
She decided to have a theme and to make it such a broad one because she "wanted to direct a show that offered a wide variety of music, one that would be enjoyable to music lovers of all ages." With her own memory missing about three-quarters of the 20th century, she turned to the Internet for research, then "narrowed down the hits from each decade."
And what are they? Oh, that's what STARfest-goers will get to find out.
Singers and the dancers are performing "hits from each decade, ranging from the 20s to the year 2000," Rabsatt says. "So much of todays music is sampled from past hits. This show fosters a real appreciation of music history."
Josephine Thomas-Lewis, who performed in the first two STARfests and has served as music director ever since, "determined whose voice was best suited for certain songs," Rabsatt says. Costume mistress Rose Maduro has had the job of giving them the right period appearance.
In previous STARfests, performers for the most part self-selected the works they performed, in some cases using original material. This year, with most of the cast members under 30, "it did take some convincing to get them adjusted to the new idea" of doing old songs, Rabsatt admits.
"At the orientation," she says, "I explained to them in detail the concept of the show. I also told them to have an open mind and give me the opportunity to allow them to experience something different." The result, she says, is that the young artists "have developed an appreciation for the music of other generations — and have added more versatility to their musical styles."
However, she adds, some individuals are doing original selections.
This year's cast
The STARfest VII performers:
– Sugar & Spice, the reggae duo of Renatta "Sugar" Jacobs and Valique "Spice" Brown.
– Versatile, a vocal group comprising Carl Edwards, Jahmaul Joseph, Kareem Harrigan and Richard Wilson.
– Another Creation Made, a.k.a. ACM, a rap group consisting of Akil Richards, Ajamu Richards and Troy Richards.
– 2 Much, a rap group made up of Felando "Fella-A-Million" Lewis, Jeffrey "J Roc" Devoise and Rahkeem "Docta Sgt. Procta" Francis.
– Individual vocalists Klint Constantine, Marsha Rawlins, Jessica Claxton, Kristin Krigger, Shenica Grant, D'Shema Wallace, Ibo Zakimba Tirado and Janine Martin.
– Poet Richard Vialet.
– Rapper Lee "Sonic B.O.O.M." Gabriel.
– The STARfest VII Dancers — Michelle Wiltshire, Luanda Shepard, La'Monique Morris. Shalani Vanterpool, Jhade Pilgrim and Cubie-Ayah George.
– Analyze This, a male dance group whose members are Trevis Matthew, Jason Sorhindo, Kamalie Burke, Cordell Boynes, Kishorn Herbert and Shermon Browne.
Browne is from St. John; all of the other performers live on St. Thomas.
There'll be "a little bit of everything — jazz, big band, gospel, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, rap, and reggae, to name just a few," Rabsatt says."Great music will always be appreciated, no matter what age you are."
More than just a talent show
STARfest is "a real team effort that we are proud of," Edgecombe says. "It is also a tradition the community loves and enjoys."
He started it all seven years ago soon after coming to the Reichhold Center, as part of his wider vision of what the facility should be about. "I believe the most important purpose of a center for the arts is to encourage the community it serves to express [those arts] creatively," he says. "The Reichhold had become a place which … presented talent almost entirely from outside. I wanted it to pay the same kind of attention to producing its own shows, to nurturing, supporting and spotlighting home-grown talent. STARfest was organized to help do this."
The first show "was really quite astonishing to many people," he recalls. More than 130 acts auditioned, and about 18 were chosen. He emphasized to the cast that the production was "an exhibition, not a competition," urging participants "to work hard together to put on the best possible show," not just focus on their individual talent segments.
In subsequent years, Edgecombe says, the music quality has remained high and other aspects of the show have gotten better. "The singers have always been outstanding," he says, in no small part "because the V.I. has had very good music teachers and programs in the schools." Over the years, he's aimed for "overall improvement, specifically in dance, in the set, in the music, in the way we collaborate." And one thing he has learned is "that it's not possible to ever prepare too well."
STARfest has evolved into largely a young people's show. This wasn't by Edgecombe's design, he says, but "has been a function of those who audition." The 40-something director adds that the show "is actually quite labor intensive, and the youth seem to have more time and energy for the hard work."
Rehearsals started in early April and have been nightly since Carnival.
Edgecombe says there are just two performances this year because the attendance on Monday nights in recent years "didn't warrant a third show." He likes running STARfest for two week-ends, "but because of demand for the center, it's not always possible."
From here on out, "I would like to see others take the show and run with it," he says. "I want to see others acquire and develop the skill level and confidence to direct the show." In Rabsatt, he sees someone who is "very organized and pays good attention to planning and preparation. She's a very good choreographer, and that has helped give the show a very sculptured, polished look."
Showtime is 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 in the covered section, $15 and $10 in the open air. Students get 50 percent off the price in any section.
Sales outlets are the Rei
chhold box office, University of the Virgin Islands bookstore, Parrot Fish, Modern Music/Havensight, and Krystal & Gifts Galore on St. Thomas; and Connections on St. John. To purchase tickets with a major charge card, call the box office, 693-1559. To place orders online, go to Reichhold Center box office.