BY STEVE WONG
After months and months of dark theatres, Mauldin Theatre Company is Let(ting) The Good Times Rolls with an original musical revue of pop hits from the ‘50, ‘60s, and ‘70s.
The mostly young cast of nine singers and dancers, along with a kick-ass live band, has more than enough energy, smiles, and talent to break the logjam of mask-wearing patrons who just can’t get that thrill of live performances from even the best virtual shows being made by theatre companies around the world.
For the estimated half-house of attendees this past Saturday night, it was certainly worth having to wear a face mask during the entire performance, sit in the furthest corners of the auditorium, and sidestep other patrons by six social distant feet just to go to the bathroom. Oh, the things we’ll do just to get out of the house to have beautiful and talented people entertain us.
This two-act show with 33 musical numbers is the brainchild of Tim St. Clair II, an experienced thespian who heads up Mauldin’s Youth Theatre. In addition to writing and directing Let The Good Times Roll, he is also a cast member. For the past 10 years, he has been a fixture in Upstate theatre with various companies including Greenville Theatre. His directing credits include many youth theatre shows, as well as shows for adults, such as Les Miserables, Forever Plaid, and Legally Blonde. Throughout Good Times, St. Clair sets an excellent professional example for the younger members to follow. Despite his obviously more mature talent, St. Clair gives himself only a couple of spotlight performances, allowing the younger members to gain exposure, experience, and applause.
Quickly establishing himself as Mr. Personality, cast member Kristofer Parker glibly introduced the show and got the audience worked up for an evening of rocking and rolling. The multilevel stage was festooned with gold and silver tinsel. The eight-member band — including a saxophone, trumpets, and trombone — was ever present and elevated in the background. For the first act, the company kept the costuming simple with black pants, and jewel-tone shirts and dresses. This made identifying and keeping up with the individual performers fairly easy and much appreciated.
Loosely chronological, the songs spanned pop hits from the 1950s to the Age of Disco. A great many of the pieces were originally recorded as solos by the superstars of the day. However, here St. Clair arranged them to showcase the talents of multiple local performers. The Elvis Medley was a good example of reshaping the hits of The King to give each cast member a chance to shine. Hearing You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog sung by a woman was quite different, and, yet, it worked.
The first standout performance — of many — was by the very talented Ryvess Martin, who belted out I Hear You Knocking, a New Orleans rhythm and blue song made popular in 1955 by Smiley Lewis. To be so young, the high school senior has a maturity of appearance and talent that is usually found in performers a bit older and more experienced. Throughout the show she was emotionally in touch with her songs and played to the audience, often with a profound sensuality. And though young, her performance credits are numerous, and her future is very promising.
The first standout dancing (as well as singing) performance came from Payton Williams, who was Twistin’ the Night Away to choreography by Michelle Malone. Williams is an aspiring actor, model, and singer, who has signed working deals with both Z1 modeling and MC1 recordings out of Nashville.
Establishing somewhat of a pattern for the show, Williams and Maxwell Weaver were a hot team in their dancing (and singing) to Johnny B. Goode, a major hit by Chuck Berry in 1958. All of the cast members were good on their feet, but these two dancing guys were notable for their smooth moves, athleticism, and the sheer enjoyment they projected.
One of my favorite numbers of the evening was the Supremes Medley. This rendition called for many cast members to step forward, but it was Khristin Stephens who caught my ears’ attention here and for the rest of the night. In a word, she is supreme as a singer. Her vocal range and clarity were matched by her ease on stage and ability to internalize and project the songs. It is no wonder that she has played Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, along with several other roles that require a woman with a strong voice and engaging personality. When she sang At Last, I literally felt chills run down my spine, and the crowd loved her!
As the first act was working up to winding down, Max Milian, a music student at Anderson University, took front and center for Who Loves You, a breezy soft rock hit (1975) by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. As expected, Milian was backed up by the other men performers. A native of Florida, Milian can be seen and heard on YouTube performing original a cappella arrangements of classic pop songs. He might not be the tallest guy in the show, but his infectious smile, focus, and solid voice make him an up-and-coming powerhouse performer.
The second act of the show called for a change in wardrobe: casual black and white. The act started off strong with War, an intense counterculture song of 1968 released by Edwin Starr. In terms of musical and staging cohesiveness, this number was a great way to leave the 1960s and introduce the 1970s. There is no easy way to perform War: It demands power, strength, and directness, and that is what this company and the band delivered.
Singer and performer Antoinette Hall found her subtle strength with Son of a Preacher Man, a womanly song made famous by Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, and Aretha Franklin. Like the women before her, Hall seemingly took this song to heart and everyone in the room could feel her emotional buy-in. Her theatre credits include both on stage performances and behind the scenes work with various Upstate companies.
Veteran singer Cindy Overfield’s experience and talent are solid and another good example for younger performers to note. She may not be as flashy as others in the company, but when it comes to singing with clarity and on pitch, she’s the one to hear. In the second act, she soloed I Feel the Earth Move flawlessly. Lyrics are important, and Overfield knows that and makes sure through skillful enunciation that every word is sung and heard well. It is no wonder that she has played in all the best venues in Nashville. She is also a published songwriter, and she has been a singing coach for more than 20 years.
St. Clair kept the best songs for the end of the show. After the girls sang Signed, Sealed, Delivered, the men were back on stage for what was the absolute best performance of the night: Proud Mary. Getting rid of their black and white attire, the guys came on stage with outrageous big-hair wigs. Leading them was Mr. Personality Parker in a questionable loose robe. Sorry, no more spoilers.
Let The Good Times Roll is just what this world needs right now. St. Clair and Mauldin Cultural Center are saluted for their daring and their caring. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic where many people are afraid to leave their homes, this show is welcome relief from the threat of death by association. I highly recommend that theatre lovers find a comfortable face mask, wash their hands, and check out Let The Good Times Roll.
Tickets: $15.00 + processing fees
8:00 p.m. | Friday, October 9, 2020
8:00 p.m. | Saturday, October 10, 2020
3:00 p.m. | Sunday, October 11, 2020