Clayhouse Review, Clayhouse Inn, Hamilton, Bermuda, August 7, 2002

In the course of their cruise to Bermuda, the staff of the Norwegian Majesty offer what they call "Shore Excursions" -- pre-organized trips on the island to give you a flavor of the culture.  One of these was the "Clayhouse Review," which we saw on a lovely Wednesday night.

It was a half-hour by bus from our boat to the Clayhouse Inn, and when we arrived, no one there seemed to know where this event was being held (very laid back, those Bermudans).  But we eventually found it and settled in for an evening of African and Caribbean entertainment, two free drinks included(!).

First up, a little old black man in a dark suit introduced the Bermuda Strollers, who proclaimed themselves the "biggest international recording and television stars of Bermuda," and I guess they would know. They've been around a long time and it showed.  They really had their act down and knew how to work the crowd.  The lead singer/guitarist told corny, Catskills-style, racy jokes with the bongo player acting as straight man.  The bassist--as bassists are wont to do -- stayed mostly quiet, while the drummer sitting in the back concentrated on keeping a steady beat throughout the show.

They went through several songs I did not recognize but presumed were their big hits, and they were all entertaining and light, including a fun dance number called the "Chicken," which resulted in two ladies from the audience getting up on stage demonstrating with the band, while the rest of us followed along.  Other more well-known songs included an Elvis ("who we played with") number "Can't Help Falling in Love" and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit "Mr. Bojangles."

These gents rocked the house.  They were always attentive to when the crowd would be losing interest (usually before we knew it) and would change tracks and keep going.  This was the most entertaining opening act I have ever seen and they left us wanting more.  They, unfortunately, were the highlight of the show.

Before they left, however, they graciously introduced the next act: Gigi, The Limbo Queen.  She was a six-foot voluptuous black woman in a silver sequined bikini and rainbow feathers on her behind, which she shook often and to great effect.  A prop man brought out dishes containing a white round object each that sat on the stage out of the way.  They looked like nothing more than bowls of ice cream.

The drummer and bongoist from the Bermuda Strollers remained on stage and provided the backing rhythm for Gigi's opening dance.  And did she dance!  She seductively pointed to a man in the front row and beckoned him to come on stage.  He did so with over-the-top looks of embarrassment that led me to believe that he was chosen beforehand.  He seemed entirely too comfortable with what went on. 

Gigi began dancing -- well, really just rump shaking -- with the man.  He tried to follow while the percussionists kept the beat going.  She then turned her back to him and began grinding into him as his eyes widened.  As if on cue, the percussionists began a staccato as Gigi's butt went into overdrive.  I've never seen anyone's hips move so quickly.  It was a talent to behold.  The man appeared for a moment to think he was in danger.  Then everything stopped.  She whispered instructions to the man (we never heard her voice, which I think added to the whole mystique) and he stepped to the side of the stage and danced solo during the next bit.

There were two poles on stage with graduated hooks about a hand's-width apart.  She took a third pole and laid it on the top hooks.  The pole was wrapped in a while cotton-like material.  She then took one of the dishes and lit a white dome--which turned out to be a similar material.  Gigi tilted her head back and set the dish on her forehead, then limboed under the pole, flaming the white material with the ball in the dish.  The audience loved it.

She extinguished the ball but left the pole burning as she went to get the dancing man.  She made him lie down under the pole, arms at his sides, as she lowered the pole one hook.  She then limboed under the pole straddling the man and avoiding the fire -- and, I'm sure, giving him quite a view.  The audience reacted favorably to this, as well.

Then just as she was getting started, she began finishing.  She beckoned another man on-stage and sat them cross-legged beside each other, a pole's length away.  She removed the standing poles, extinguished the burning pole, and proceeded to hand an end to each man.  Having judged it to be the correct height--about shoulder height on the two sitting men--she proceeded to limbo under it, walking on the sides of her feet, neither her knees nor her back touching the floor.  Although I thought it a bit premature, I was definitely impressed.  And that was the end of Gigi.

The little old black man reentered to introduce the headlining act, the Coca-Cola Steel Band.  (They do not appear to be endorsed or supported by the soft drink company in any way.)  One light-skinned man entered with a tenor pan, and a darker man came on carrying a set of three pans--for chords and rhythm we were told.  He worked the hardest during the show, rushing from pan to pan as if he were late for an appointment.

I was generally under the impression that a steel drum band played island music: reggae, ska, soca, that sort of thing.  But the little old man -- who introduced each piece--said their first song would be by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is where I become torn.  Technically, it was very well done.  They obviously knew their music and were good at what they did, although the drummer -- and why would they need a drummer?--would often overwhelm the melody.  But it was not what I expected and, after the previous two acts, it was, to be honest, boring.  And it didn't get any better.  They went into a version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory" (from Cats) that my wife said was twice as long as the original, and even the island standard "Hot, Hot, Hot" had no real heat. 

I remember the little old man trying to get us to sing along to "Hot, Hot, Hot," a song we didn't know the words to.  He finally said, "Well, you know the chorus," and so the band would play the melody for a while then when the chorus came around, the little old man would say--trying to get us involved-- "feeling hot, hot, hot."  It was really uncomfortable sitting there, unable to listen to the music because you're waiting to see if you will recognize the chorus when it comes around so you can say four words with no feeling whatsoever.  He ruined what could have been just another mediocre part of the show.  (It has long been my opinion, and this supports it, that the only music that should be played instrumentally is music written that way.  Party music is not generally intricate enough to hold its own without lyrics.)

Then the band began to play "Sing, Sing, Sing," the swing standard originally done by Glenn Miller.  If you're familiar with it, you know it's a real "jump and jive" tune.  That was a hit.  People were clapping, some people got up and danced.  The room was alive and everyone was having fun.  And then it was over.  Just when the audience was getting involved in their playing, they stopped.  What a letdown.  In terms of fun, the steel band that was playing on the cruise ship, Caribbean Wave, was exponentially better.

[Craig Clarke]