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No cheese, all joy 

‘Great Joy! A Very Special Christmas’
Robinson Center
Dec. 9


Even with a small crowd and with Tony Award-winning tap dancer Savion Glover a no-show after missing his plane from New York, Lawrence Hamilton’s “Great Joy!” Christmas show on Friday was a fantastic two hours. The cheese factor that usually accompanies these variety-style holiday shows was nonexistent, and the music choices that Hamilton made both for his solo efforts and for those performed by the Philander Smith College choir were dead-on, providing the most stirring moments of the show.

Freda Payne, the pop and blues singer who charted when most adults in the audience were kids, still rocked the house with the Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned “Band of Gold,” along with a warming “The Christmas Song” where she stretched out all over the scale, and then finished with the timely war plea “Bring the Boys Home,” which she first recorded in 1971.

Local sax player Michael Eubanks put a smooth jazz spin on “Winter Wonderland” and a Caribbean touch to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The show also proved a nice introduction for many of us to Marcus Montgomery, a thoughtful poet who hit on the high points of the season and what it means, juxtaposed against the trouble in the world today, in two spoken-word performances. The latter drew a standing ovation.

Hamilton seems wedded to the song “Mary Did You Know,” which he had sung on this stage a few years back with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and again mastered on Friday. The flip side of that, “Joseph’s Lament” from “Nativity,” also allowed Hamilton to show off his range.

Hamilton’s choir not only provided backup to Payne on her numbers, but was outstanding on its own with the gospel-laced “O Holy Night.” With a 25-piece orchestra and some nice keyboard work, the song was presented as if Earth, Wind and Fire were on the stage singing.

With the night seemingly pulled together late, Hamilton still did an amazing job assembling the talent on hand. The entire show had us humming on the way home.

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